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 Michael 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 Michael Flowers’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
At Junior High School an English teacher retired, and we were given a science teacher for one hour a week. He obviously didn’t know how to conduct an English class. His solution was to get us to read in turn out loud The Hobbit to the rest of the class. I can remember personally reciting the bit about the dwarves approaching the fires of the Elvenking. I even had time to look up and see the whole class was spellbound. At the end of the academic year we hadn’t even finished the book, so I got it that Christmas, and read it all through myself.
A few years later on a school prize-giving day someone in another class got this strange thick green paperback book with a yellow spine – myself and others were receiving chunky hardback history books, or atlases. On investigation this green book was Pauline Baynes’ cover of The Lord of the Rings. I got it the following Christmas and read it through several times. I remember the first time I wondered who Arwen was at the end (I missed her earlier entrance in Rivendell, or forgot all about her). I was also surprised that Strider became the King.
A couple of years later I remember going into W.H. Smiths and coming across a desk absolutely covered with piles of a strange book with a floral design on the cover – this was the launch of The Silmarillion. I got the paperback for Christmas once it became available, but it took at least 3 attempts before I could get past the first two “chapters”.
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Without question The Lord of the Rings. I prefer his mature style with a detailed attention to landscape and nature. I also like his building of suspense, and contrast between safe havens and places of danger. My favourite chapters of all are “The Shadow of the Past” and “The Council of Elrond.”
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I didn’t enjoy my senior school very much, but I remember once reading The Lord of the Ringswalking between classes, waiting outside classes in every spare moment. Then reading it at home once I got back from school. I think I managed to read it using every spare moment in 11 days. I remember finding the 3 volumes in Hull’s central library in the reference section for the first time, and being amazed by the appendices. My paperback copy only had the Aragorn and Arwen appendix. I was still at school, but spend lots of 2p pieces photocopying the appendices I wanted to read at home. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to buy the third volume in hardback, but pocket money was tight then – only 20p a week. I loved the 1981 BBC radio adaptation, and that helped with the pronunciation of words like Celeborn and Isengard – the pronunciation appendices meant nothing to me at the time!
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes, when I first read it as a teenager my favourite chapters were “The Uruk-Hai” and “Shelob’s Lair”, but as an adult I definitely prefer “The King of the Golden Hall” and “Treebeard”. After I studied English literature at university were Tolkien wasn’t even mentioned, and I got the impression he was despised, I feared I would find the books childish. However, I found that the narrative had added depth, especially the sections dealing with the Riders of Rohan – after studying Old English. The first teenage readings were made at breakneck speed as the excitement mounted. Now, I like to take my time and savour all the words. However, I do find the Frodo, Sam & Gollum less interesting once one knows what happens next.
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
When I first read it, it was a secret vice. You weren’t supposed to mention liking it, a bit like you couldn’t mention if you enjoyed Abba. The films have made Tolkien more acceptable and mainstream. However, I probably wouldn’t recommend Tolkien to a stranger. You need to know a person’s taste before recommending Tolkien. There are still some diehard realists who don’t like fiction in which there is an element of fantasy. I’ve heard several people gave up on the TV series “Game of Thrones” as soon as the dragons appeared!
If you want more of Michael’s thoughts on Tolkien and other topics, visit his blog at http://www.eybirdwatching.blogspot.com/