This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Beth and the other participants for this.
To see the idea behind this project, check out this page
I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase a print of this painting, they are available on his website!
If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.
Now, on to Beth H’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I was first introduced to Tolkien’s work in late junior high or freshman year of high school when my sister brought home a library copy of The Hobbit. I may be remembering this wrong—what year of my life it happened. It had to have been before freshman year of high school. Then I think the Rankin Bass cartoon of The Hobbit was shown on TV and I liked it, so I read the book, and liked the parts about yearning for cupboard comforts the best, the Gollum scene second best, and the troll scene next best.
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
My favorite part of Tolkien’s work is The Lord of the Rings—and my favorite part of that is the hobbitry. Really the mixture of country bumpkins yearning for adventure, loving the comfortable life, but wanting to see more interesting things. It was the story of my life growing up in a small farm town before the Internet, feeling that there must be SO MUCH MORE out there. At first read through the Black Rider scare and intrigue hooked me so that I could not put the book down, and I fell in love with Glorfindel—as small a part as that was. He seemed to me to most clearly evoke what was beautiful—promisingly possible about elves. Makes you want to learn more about what life in his world would be like—but we never really get it, do we? We are always left wanting more.
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
When I first read the LOTR I was all about the Englishness of it and cared the most about the hobbit story lines. I studied in England for a year in college and I blame the LOTR for planting a romantic idea in my head about what England would be. This was before I read The Wind in the Willows. Same kind of love, though. Love of nature and simple pleasures and yearning for adventure.
My experience changed most after finally being able to digest The Silmarillion—ONLY possible with the help of Corey Olsen and The Silmarillion Seminar podcasts. It was like being given the LOTR all over again, and this time the parts that I had previously found to be tedious (long descriptions of landscapes and chapters having to do with Gondor and Rohan) became the more interesting parts.
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Post Silmarillion Tolkien has become an extension of my spiritual life—in the sense that it provides another “in” to a sense of gratitude for beauty, the importance of sorrow and pity. As a writer I am always amazed by Tolkien’s skill. He is much loved but underrated, and many who try to copy him suggest that they miss most of what is great in his writing. By that I mean that the charm has less to do with the variety of creatures/sentient beings. Writing a story that has dragons and elves does not give you Tolkien, so the value lies elsewhere.
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I always try to get people to read Tolkien and try to keep Little Free Libraries near me always stocked, hoping to give that experience to another person. The first biggest value is in an appreciation of beauty in a biblical sense—“…and God saw that it was good,” and so do we.