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 Megan 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 Megan N. Fontenot’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My family read a lot growing up. Since we were homeschooled, my mom would read all sorts of classics to us during the day, and then my dad would read something each night after dinner. So, two of my brothers and I had heard both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings read aloud by my dad probably by the time I was 6 or 7. I was an imaginative child who adopted the persona of favorite characters in the books my parents read to us with startling dexterity in a child so young. I distinctly remember trekking about our house with a blanket thrown over my shoulders as a cloak: I was Frodo, and after a little coaxing I convinced my little brother to follow me around as my faithful Samwise. But although I enjoyed both of those books at that age, I didn’t really latch onto them until I re-read both as a young teen, ironically because my older brother told me they were “kind of Celtic” and I was obsessed with Celticism at the time.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Wow. This is always a difficult question for me because I’m so intensely involved in everything Tolkien I can get my hands on… Here are a few things I especially love, though: Éowyn’s triumph over the Witchking and her subsequent healing alongside Faramir; the coming of Tuor and Voronwë to Gondolin; the humor and pathos of Tolkien’s various shorter stories (including the ones “for children,” like Roverandom); Legolas’s fascinating relationship with ecology; Finrod’s contest with Sauron; Fingon’s rescue of Maedhros; and the singing-into-being of Arda.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I love the experience of sharing Tolkien with other people, honestly. I’m never more keenly aware of the power of his stories than when I connect with people over his work and we can share our excitement and curiosity. And I especially love hearing from people to whom I’ve recommended his work. It’s almost like getting to experience that first-time thrill all over again! Stories are made to be shared, and Tolkien’s have inspired entire communities of enthusiasts who are able to put aside differences and come together and share their love of a single thing… and that’s powerful. We desperately need stories that inspire friendship, community, and hope in our world, and Tolkien’s seem to do that particularly well.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Most definitely. A decade-ish ago, when I first took up The Lord of the Rings again as a young teen, I never expected to one day consider myself a Tolkien scholar. In the intervening years, I’ve learned so much about Tolkien himself, his way of creating, the world he lived in, the world he was creating… I would be concerned if my approach hadn’t changed! I can say for certain that I’ve been able to cultivate a critical attitude towards Tolkien’s work that allows me to write about it academically—which is in some respects really hard to do for someone who’s also a diehard fan. But I’ve found that my ability to approach Tolkien’s oeuvre critically has only deepened my appreciation and love for what he accomplished, even while I can also see its flaws.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Absolutely. I recommend it every chance I get. Tolkien’s work is special, having certain qualities that never fail to move me; and opening his world to others is a joyful experience, like sharing good news or a great gift. When I recommend it, I often tell people that it takes effort and patience on the part of the reader, but that they won’t fail to be rewarded. The length of The Lord of the Rings, for example, makes the excitement and relief of its eucatastrophe all the more potent. You feel as though you’ve made the journey alongside the characters. It’s just beautiful.