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 Artnoose 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 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 Artnoose’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
As a child (maybe around age 7), I watched the Rankin Bass animated movie of The Hobbit. Either I saw it several times, or else the Gollum scene really made an impression on me, but I remember playing Gollum tag with my sister and cousin, where were would take turns chasing each other while saying, “Precioussss… my precioussss…” I never ended up reading any of the books until adulthood, when the LotR movies started coming out. I had just gone through a difficult break-up and wanted to immerse myself in escapist fantasy fiction. I figured that four books full of hobbits and elves would do the trick, and I was right! At the time, my housemate Jenn was in the terminal stage of cancer, and I would talk to her about what I was reading. I remember complaining about how much singing people did and that I just kind of breezed through the poetry. Jenn would chide me, “Artnoose! Don’t skip the poems!!” Even today, my copy of The Silmarillion is the one I got from her when she died.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I was asked this question recently by a nine-year-old, and I had to think about it for a minute because I had never really thought about what specifically I liked. I decided that for me the biggest draw is the extensive world-building Tolkien did. The thing about Tolkien is that you can delve as deeply or shallowly as you like. There are people who can read just The Hobbit and LotR trilogy and leave it at that, maybe even reading those works many times over their lifetime. While that’s completely fine, other people can dive into The Silmarillion and learn the many back stories that inform the major works. What I found is that once I got that far in, I learned (primarily through the Tolkien Professor podcasts by this point) that if I wanted, I could explore even further because of all the work Tolkien did on the languages and histories of the people of Middle-earth. The wealth of information that Tolkien left behind (and that Christopher Tolkien has sifted through) can enrich the readings of the main texts, and yet even still, there are mysteries (such as the fate of the Entwives) that invite further wondering.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
One fond experience I can think of is listening to the LotR audiobook during my pregnancy. I was determined to finish before the baby came, and I was doing pretty well until I decided to be a full completist and listen to the appendices, too. I hit a “nesting” point where my due date was approaching and my sister was getting ready to fly into town. I was cleaning my living room while listening to the long family trees of Dwarves and Hobbits. My kid was late, wouldn’t you know, and I did manage to finish the audiobook.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
My reading of Tolkien’s works outside of the canonical novels has greatly enriched my experience. When I think back of my preliminary reading of the trilogy, my main takeaways were the bonds of the Fellowship and the intensity of Frodo’s suffering. After having read The Silmarillion several times and shuffling through the History of Middle Earth series, I am more aware of greater themes present in the works, such as sacrifice, hope, and chance. It is completely valid to be the kind of Tolkien fan who reads the main books frequently without bothering with any of the auxiliary texts, but I have found that even reading things like Leaf By Niggle or The Father Christmas Letters have yielded small bits of understanding that only make my subsequent readings of The Hobbit and LotR even more profound. What began as a literary escape from difficult times transitioned into a lens with which I view my passage through this life.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I understand that Tolkien isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I have learned to not take it personally if someone hates or is disinterested in his work. I tend to recommend it only if someone is vaguely interested in a Medievalist form of fantasy fiction to begin with. I struggle sometimes with wanting to recommend Tolkien to my son, who currently is six years old. I think he knows by now that Tolkien is kind of my thing, so he resists it somewhat. He also thinks that it’s going to be scary. I showed him the Rankin Bass animated Hobbit, and while he liked it and didn’t think it was too scary, he also doesn’t really talk about it or ask to watch it again. Sometimes he says he would be okay with me reading him The Hobbit, and other times he says he’s not interested. I did read him Roverandom, and again, he liked it but did not talk about it afterward or refer to it like he does with books he really enjoys. I got him a bunch of Medievalist fantasy children’s books at the library, and he has already torn through a few different series. I suspect that we will read The Hobbit at some point, and if he ever wants to read the trilogy, he knows where to find it.
Artnoose published Ker-bloom! a great letterpress zine!