Many readers of my Tolkien Experience Project have asked me to share a bit of my own story. Here are a few recollections I have of my early Tolkien reading history. These are non-textual reflections, if you want more about my ideas about parts of the book, please check out my First Impressions series where I reconstruct my first reading over several installments!
One of my fondest early memories of The Hobbit was when a storyteller came to my elementary school and recited the entire book (from memory) to my fourth grade class in installments. This was a marvelous feat. I must have read the book shortly before then, because I remember following along in my head to make sure that he remembered every single word!
I went on to read LotR a few years after this. I vividly remember sitting in my seventh-grade science lab, the tall, black tables that were always icy to the touch, and pouring over the final chapters in RK. This would mean that I finished the trilogy about a year before the Peter Jackson adaptations came out. Mind you, I was a fairly unconnected kid, so I did not realize that the movies were upon me at the time of reading. I thought I had found this secret treasure that I was one of the lucky few to read.
In eighth grade, I had to present a biography in my English class, so I naturally chose to present on Tolkien. This was the first time I ever bought a book to do research about another book or its author, so in a way, I owe some of my first scholarly impulses to Tolkien. Unfortunately, an eighth-grader does not know how to sift through critical material, so I ended up purchasing Grotta’s Architect of Middle Earth and Day’s The Hobbit Companion. Another unfortunate decision was to buy the large hardback edition of both of these books. It is the burned hand that learns best, I suppose.
Later that same year, I saw The Fellowship of the Ring movie and I was a bit of a purist, to be honest. Then again, what child isn’t a purist when it comes to a book they love? So I did not really get into the movies until much later.
The next huge development in my evolution as a Tolkien fan came several years later, I was in my second year of high school, when a nearby University where my mother worked offered a Tolkien course. My mother, knowing my love for Tolkien, audited the course with me. This was where I met Dr. Amy H. Sturgis and her infectious love for all things SFF and Tolkien.
This class forced me to reexamine many of my beliefs about LotR and Tolkien’s legendarium in general (and was really my first proper exposure to Tolkien’s larger legendarium, since I had failed in earlier attempts to read through S).
This led me to write the first real research paper in my life (a requirement in the third year at my high school) on Tolkien. The minimum page requirement was ten pages, and I wrote eighteen—yes, I was that student. Surprisingly, my teacher read it all and gave me marvelous feedback!
This is the end of my Tolkien journey up through high school. I may revisit this frame narrative again later on to fill in more details, or extend it on, we shall see!