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 Brad 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 Brad Thompson’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I was first introduced to Tolkein’s work when I was nine years old, so I would be in year five at my junior school in Sheffield, England. I was told by my teacher to read this book as it was a fantastic book to read and that I would get lots out of it. When I flipped through the pages the very first time I picked it up, I realised there were little or no pictures, and this was going to be a huge problem for me, because even though I was nine years old and had the reading age of an average fifteen year old, I always had issues with my imagination. Basically, I’ve never been able to turn written text into an image in my head. However, I persevered and forced myself to read the whole book.
I did not enjoy it. And that was such a shame because there were parts of it that I liked but without the illustrations and without being able to fully picture what was going on in the story I couldn’t really can appreciate the book for what it was. And so, it would be another seven or eight years before I took up my interest in anything to do with Tolkein’s work. Fast forward to the year 2003, and I decided, with my friends, to play The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on the PlayStation 2, which I absolutely adored. Then, I decided that I needed to watch the films, so I watched the first two films on DVD and the final film, The Return of The King I went to see the pictures, on New Year’s Eve 2003, and it was absolutely brilliant.
Fast forward another nine years or 10 years, and The Hobbit films came out, where I then found a YouTube Channel, The One Ring. Net, and began to watch all their shows surrounding all things Middle-earth, and obviously, the build up to the release of The Hobbit films. And so, I decided to read all the books from the very beginning. I started by reading The Hobbit, again, which I loved, and now I didn’t have to picture that much in my head because I already knew the characters and many parts of Middle-earth in my head, because of the films and also knew that I would be going to the pictures to see the film and so I would see what was in the book anyway. Now I could fully appreciate the text, and I can’t wait to read it to my son.
From there in 2015, I decided to read The Silmarillion, with the aid of Rob Shaw and the audiobook, it is the best thing I have ever read, and may ever read. And now, I have read The Lord of the Rings, and so I will look to the future to read the Unfinished Tales, The Lost Tales and all the other works in Tolkein’s legendarium.
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
My favourite part of Tolkein’s work would have to be Fingolfin’s challenge to Morgoth. Fingolfin from the very beginning proved that he was a completely, utterly fantastic character. Before the Noldor left Valinor, Fingolfin stood up to his brother Feanor, who drew his sword, without the use of force or aggression. In that moment he proved that he was steadfast, was strong mentally, and had a heart made of something else. When he chose to follow his brother, he showed that he was loyal to him and his father’s house, and all of the Noldor and the rest of the elves and the blessed realm could follow him one day as the High King of the Noldor because of those qualities which he displayed in that moment.
When it came to the battle with Morgoth, Fingolfin proved to all in Arda that Morgoth was not invincible. He proved that Morgoth could be wounded and that he had weaknesses, and that he could be beaten. His splendour was simply beautiful, from the horse ride to the gates of Angband, to his shining sword and shield in the fight, and even his death, was rather spectacular, if not rather heartbreaking. Fingolfin’s life and final fight showed that the curse of the Noldor, through the Oath of Feanor, was something that was not present in all of the Noldor, and that they were prepared to take a stand with their kin.
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
My fondest experience of tokens work has actually yet to come, as it will be the experience of listening to my children read The Hobbit (and other Tolkien works) to me. Interestingly, my son a couple of years ago, helped me on a few co-op levels on LEGO The Hobbit game for the PlayStation 3, and forever will those memories stay with me, not just because it was my son and he was playing the LEGO The Hobbit game with me, but because he was actually just so good at it and he loved it so much. After Christmas this year I will read the graphic novel of The Hobbit to my son who is now five and then next year I will read with him The Hobbit. He is almost a fluent reader so I expect him to be able to read it, and I very much look forward to being able to listen to him, and this is also the same for my second son who is younger. The only other thing that could delight me is if my wife suddenly decides to watch the films with me and become a fan. But I doubt this will ever happen.
However, my fondest experience so far would have to be meeting Sylvester McCoy and John Rhys Davies at Sheffield ComicCon 2014. Fortunately I was lucky enough to meet them both and in particular John was a complete joy and pleasure to speak to. He asked me in great detail about my work as a primary school teacher which led him to write a wonderful message on a photograph of him dressed as Gimli, which I will treasure forever. On the photograph he wrote “Children! Behave! Listen to Mr. Thompson as he is wise, smart and will make you better people…” We spoke for a good 20 minutes while there was nobody else coming to see him and I just felt that I was talking to somebody who was just a wonderful person, as well as being an amazing actor.
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
The way in which I approach Tolkein’s work has changed over the last few years, and may continue to change. Tolkein’s works started out as a hobby, something that I was interested in but didn’t really take that seriously. However, now I would say that I take it more seriously. So for me, the seriousness of which I approach his works has gone up to a level which I did not think that it would ever go to, because I didn’t think that I would love it as much as what I have come to love it. For me, that means that now I have read the books, I used to religiously watch TOR.N on YouTube, I listen regularly to The Prancing Pony Podcast, and now I have joined The Tolkein Society and will go to Tolkein 2019.
Moreoever, as a primary school teacher I wish I could do more to teach Tolkein’s work, in particular The Hobbit, in schools so that children get this fantastic experience of something which I didn’t quite have as a child. And actually, because I couldn’t engage with it when I was young, makes me more motivated to pass it on – for me as a teacher, I know how to be able to teach Tolkein’s work to children so that they too can access something which many may never have thought they would before. Whether it’s children like me who struggled with big chunks of text and little imagination, if schools don’t teach it, or the fact that some children who think it isn’t cool – I know that there are so many children out there who I could engage with who otherwise wouldn’t have. Also, sadly, I think parents show the films to their children, and they never consider or forget the literature. So the second part of my approach to Tokein’s work would be to be able to teach it to small children through the parents! I’d get them into The Hobbit too and then the children into all the ‘child-like-ways’, toys, games, videogames etc… so that they can become a lifelong Tolkein fan.
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
In all honesty, I recommend Tolkein to anyone and everyone, even when they have told me that they are never going to be a fan. I can’t help myself but tell everybody how much I love his work and how fantastic it is and that they must read the books, they must listen to the audiobook, they must listen to The Prancing Pony Podcast, they must join The Tolkein Society, and they must do all these things that I have just started to do with the last couple of years because it is just so fantastic. I tell everybody all the time and I will continue to tell them.
Although, I love having better knowledge than all my friends and I’ve been able to tell them and teach him things I didn’t know, but have now learned. For example, getting them to know more about Balrogs in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for example. Finally, the one thing I really love about Tolkein’s works is having the potential for an amazing in-depth discussion over the characters, their motives, events that happen, what could’ve happened, what should’ve happened, and how it would’ve played out if I’d been a character, or even how I would’ve played out if I had written the parts or even a book as part of the legendarium. These kinds of thoughts are something that go round my head a lot and I like sharing these with all my friends, and anyone who will listen.