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 Marcel 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 Marcel Aubron-Bülles’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
A really bad sunburn on the first day of our family’s holidays beside the Adriatic Sea in then Yugoslavia confined me to our quarters – and there was that horribly green German three volume edition of The Lord of the Rings.
For the next two days and nights I barely slept and only rarely left the room I was reading the books in. Returning home to Cologne I became one of the youngest members ever of a British Council library and found The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, Pictures, Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey and The Book of Lost Tales I + II and The Lays of Beleriand.
When I had finished those I started reading historical fiction, introductions into Welsh and Old English, and asked the local English bookshop whether they had “something like Tolkien.”
They gave me The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett.
The rest is, as they say, history.
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I have to say that in the course of years with different interests shaping and/ or changing my imagination (including the study of British and American History as well as English Literature and Linguistics) I have come to appreciate different things at different times. The Lord of the Rings is, of course, to this day the single most important book in my life; however, I have come to adore and appreciate and respect other titles not generally considered ‘Middle-earth’, that is, his scholarly or Non-Middle-earth works.
Finn and Hengest, for example, I have reasons to assume to be a manuscript for a modern ‘CSI: Linguistics’ TV series; On Fairy-Stories is to me – even if the wording or the argument itself may not sound as polished as one might wish – on the same level as E.M. Forster expounding qualities of the novel as such; Letters from Father Christmas is such a whimsical, lovingly illustrated quasi-autobiography of the writer and father that you can either simply read them out to a rapt audience or mine them for background information on the development of the ‘Legendarium’; and the list continues …
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
The fact I had the privilege and honour to found a literary society promoting interest in the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien which in its twenty year existence has grown to an incredible source of community activities, scholarly publications and events, and the fellowship such societies offer around the world.
Plus: I met my wife Sauronita thanks to the Professor.
Nota bene: The nickname was given by Melkor. No pun intended.
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes, certainly – in the sense of a wider range of approaches to Tolkien’s life and works. It is obvious that theology, medievalist studies and any linguistic efforts are at the forefront of scholarly work in terms of JRRT. However, there are many other fields of interest which can shed light on many still undiscovered aspects of Tolkien’s imagination.
I am particularly interested in the reception of Tolkien’s works in the public eye and the fandom they have spawned, its past, present and future. As I have been a Tolkien activist and volunteer for 25+ years now (and a ‘fan’ myself for more than thirty) I am very much looking forward to be part of this outstanding group of people everywhere in the world, whatever the individual focus may be.
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Yes, I would.
As the long-time chairman to a Tolkien society it was, of course, my job to convince people to become members of our society and I am very proud to this day that at one fantasy festival of about 150 people which took place in an old medieval castle I managed to convince five people to join us in one evening – the last one demanding I would offer my back so he could sign the application form on it – as it happened in Schwarzenegger’s rendition of “Running Man.” And no, I was spared the pain … he simply signed 😉
But aside from such anecdotes of which there are many I would always ask the person in question first what they do like – is it drama, is it tragedy, is it light-hearted comedy, is it high epic fantasy? – and then I would chose from the wide range of options available a title that person will probably never have heard of as many do not know about Tolkien’s ‘minor works.’ They offer such different approaches there’s always something out there to suggest.
If I needed to supply catch words they would possibly be: heroic romance, epic fantasy, fellowship, literary classics, fandom (always depending on the individual sales pitch!) But again, I would work from what I was being offered by the person asking me for suggestions and then decide what needed to be said or suggested.
I incidentally coined the slogan “Literature. Fantasy. Fandom” for the German Tolkien Society to quickly explain at fairs and conventions what we do as a society – and it has helped people to better understand how we see ourselves and what we do provide as a community of Arda Activists [another term I coined just now. It’s a term-in-development but I think there is potential in this.]
And that is how I would recommend Tolkien to anyone appreciative of (fantasy) literature – there is so much to explore on so many different levels you’ll have quite a few books to read.
There is nobody like him. You might as well read books.
For more Tolkien- related material from Marcel Aubron-Bülles, you can find him on Twitter or Instagram, or follow his blog: The Tolkienist.