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 Sue 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 Sue Bridgewater’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
At University in the late sixties, I made some very good friends who have stuck with me for 50 years. One of these, during a conversation about what we had all read before we became official students of Literature and Language, turned an astonished gaze upon me and cried ‘What do you mean, you haven’t read The Hobbit?’
So I put off buying whatever set text I should have bought for a while, and bought The Hobbit. Fell in to it and disappeared for a while. Came out and read The Lord of the Rings (I still got my required essays written, though they were rather a nuisance.)
And so it went on – and so it goes on. New Tolkien text appears; I buy it, read it, cherish it. What would have happened if I’d fallen in with a different group of friends is something I try not to imagine.
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I’m not keen on ‘favourite’ questions – each of Tolkien’s works, whether fiction or scholarly, has its own tones and nuances and qualities which need to be appreciated for themselves. Over the years, I have when pushed begun to say that my favourites are Smith of Wotton Major and Leaf by Niggle; however, all the others are my favourites too!
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
The many times I have been moved to tears reading or re-reading key passages: Thorin’s death; Frodo’s ‘I will take the ring’; the fall of Gandalf; ‘joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief;’ and many others.
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes, as I have read more of his works, and more (and more) of the writings about him and his work, I have learned to understand how sub-creations affect us, that my tears were and are expressions of recovery, escape and consolation. When re-reading, I’m not looking at the works in that assessing kind of way, but do draw more from them as a reader because of my deeper understanding. I’ve also written and had published a few articles about Tolkien’s work, and turned to writing my own sub-creative fiction.
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Yes, but not to everyone I know. You can’t make everyone over into copies of yourself, and ‘Fantasy’, speculative fiction, is not for everyone. Although everyone needs their own roads to recovery, escape and consolation, we have to accept that we can’t force people to like everything we like. I’m happy to be in touch with fellow Tolkienists across the world and to share our pleasure in Tolkien; that’s a joy within the walls of the world, and a light when all other lights go out.
For more from Sue, you can follow the blog on her website!