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 Alex 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 Alex B’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My Dad read The Hobbit to me, and then, despite having some reservations, the Lord of the Rings. I can’t say exactly how young I was then, but I do remember that I certainly couldn’t manage to read the books myself yet.
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
To be as succinct as possible: The truth of it.
To expand a bit more: The fully-realized secondary world, with palpable ancientry, geography, culture, language, and complexity. I think it’s dangerous to suggest fiction is only worthwhile–or even is most worthwhile–when it says things about our own selves, and our own world; and yet it must be said that Tolkien, in his fantasy, managed to depict our reality in a way that *feels* more true than almost any so-called realistic depiction. In that way he shows to be false the dichotomy between myth and our present lived experience, making our world all the more wondrous.
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I remember vividly my “fall in love” moments, the successive eu/catastrophes in both The Hobbit and LOTR. But, if I can be a little cliché, the only possible answer is that every experience is my favorite, and none of them are. Having the books read to me and skipping school to see the first film with my Dad (I’m 30) will always be treasured bonding experiences; Tolkien’s Boethian (or at least Boethi-esque) depiction of fate and acting in the face of it, grieving yet grimly optimistic, have informed my general ethic and shaped how I’ve responded to hardship and tragedy in my adult life. (There was no doubt which author I would read while working on the one eulogy I’ve given; and there’s a reason that one eulogy had three lines that got laughs, and celebrated life in the face of promised death.) However, there is still a lot to be said for those quiet nights alone with an old paperback, stripped of any outside context.
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes; and so has the way it approaches me, which is perhaps nearer to how I experience it. At first, I delighted in the adventure, the danger, and the great expansive travel. But now, having read everything I know to have been published with Tolkien’s name on the cover and consumed a massive amount of the related literature, podcasts, and lectures… well, I still delight in the adventure, the danger, and the great expansive travel. But I also appreciate the depth of scholarship baked into the fiction, as well as the ephemeral wisdom. There is beauty in the world–indeed, there always has been–and the fact that it will pass, as did that which came before, is no reason not to behold it all with wonder and gratitude.
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I would, but I tend not to do so explicitly. My enthusiasm, I think, speaks loudly enough; and there’s some danger in insisting on a kind of genre canon. So long as the people I care about are reading things they care about, I’m happy.