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 Don 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 Don Standing’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
Around the time I was starting high school, I was reading a fair bit of Conan and Sword and Sorcery stuff. I remember seeing on the cover of many books variations of “Not since Lord of the Rings…”. And so, like water circling a drain, I bought my first copy of Fellowship of the Ring. That was about 50 years ago.
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Favourite part? If that means favourite work, then The Silmarillion then Smith of Wootton Major. If that means favourite part of Lord of the Rings, then Book I. If that means favourite aspect of the writing, then tone. If that means favourite character, then Middle-earth
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I just listened to an interview with author Julian Barnes who said, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” This resonates with me and I think that may be my answer. The Silmarillion, as the blurb on my edition says, “approaches the mythic”. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean, but for me there is a holiness to it, an exaltation. It is a paean to wonder and awe – things I miss in this world.
On another level, introducing my son to Tolkien: I have an illustrated copy of The Hobbit and I would retell the story using the illustrations when he could barely talk. He called Thorin and Company “dorfs” and, in the double page spread illustration of the Battle of Five Armies would name the orcs: always the last one named was “Jibby”. Fond memories.
On another level, rediscovering and re-experiencing the works through Signum University, the Tolkien Professor, and The Prancing Pony podcast.
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
I wouldn’t say “approach” particularly. I used to read Lord of the Rings yearly, but haven’t in many years now. I find that I have become rather Smeagol-ish in that I am very interested in the beginnings of things: word origins, pre-history, etc. As I write this, I see that that is probably very Tolkien too. Ironic that the character that, in some ways, was like the author, becomes Gollum.
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Probably not, although I certainly have. Most people who would be interested already have read it.
As mentioned above, I am interested in beginnings. I have oftentimes seen a comedy routine on tv that is the ancestor of some original bit from the 50s (for example). When I see the original, I am often disappointed by how bland it is. I wonder if that would be the same for Tolkien. Because he has virtually taken over the world and is everywhere, new readers (those used to Game of Thrones for example, or Harry Potter) may not be as appreciative as we who read it when the world was young.