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 Paul 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 Paul Mitchener’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
There were two, maybe three stages. The first stage was The Hobbit being read to me when I was 8 or so at school, back in the early 1980s. About a year later, my grandfather recommended him to me, and I read The Hobbit on my own and The Fellowship of the Ring. For some reason, he only had the first volume of Lord of the Rings, though I reread Fellowship several times. When I was first at a new school when I was 11, almost the very first thing I did was go to the library, and notice they had the rest of the Lord of the Rings. I devoured them over the next few evenings.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Who’s your favourite child? More seriously, this is one of those answers which changes over time, and with each reading. I love Bilbo’s growth in The Hobbit from bumbling fish out of water to being a crafty hero, the way the world is revealed to the readers at the same time it is to the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, and the tragic grandeur of The Silmarillon.
And there are so many good individual moments. In Lord of the Rings for example, the charge of the Rohirrim on the Pelennor Fields, and Treebeard’s interactions with Merry and Pippin stannd out for me at the moment. If I’m going to answer just one thing, I’ll choose the sheer depth of Tolkein’s work, the way every piece of the landscape has character and history. There’s nothing else like it in fiction.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I moved a little away from Tolkien in my early twenties, but seriously reconnected later. There were the movies, but in the wake of the movies I listened to the BBC radio play of Lord of the Rings for the first time, and of course reread the books. And I was struck anew by the great depths, and the sheer mythic reality of Middle-earth. In particular, I seriously appreciated The Silmarillion more than I ever had when I was younger, but it was not only The Silmarillion which felt new to me again.
And there have been other periods of rediscovery. In particular, I recently really enjoyed a group slow read of Lord of the Rings, with a mix of people very familiar with Tolkien and those with less experience.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Definitely. Even after the first reading, on subsequent rereads I tended to rush through everything, enjoying the technicolour movie playing out in my brain. Later I started to dwell on the imagined world, drawing out connections between different parts of Middle-earth, and pondering questions such as “what happened to Radagast?” and “where did the Entwives go?” looking for clues in the text.
Most lately, I’m trying to go more slowly, dwelling on each part of the narrative as it comes, not rushing ahead to what comes next, and trying not to use my knowledge of what comes next to inform the present. I’m also engaging more with some of the thematic elements. Tolkien warned us against allegory, but also emphasised that applicability is something different.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Certainly! Tolkien’s work is the deepest work of fantasy out there, and there’s nothing else like it.
It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have biases about what Tolkien is and is not, informed by popular culture. I’d urge them to forget their biases, especially when it comes to what they think of as “Tolkienesque fantasy”, a term which misleads us about Tolkien’s depth, and engage with the original. It’s fun and something to lose oneself in. One can go as deep as one desires, or just enjoy the world, the story, and the characters.
If you want more thoughts from Paul Mitchener, you can find him on G+!