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 Elyanna C. 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 Elyanna C’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I was first introduced when I was about 9/10 to the LOTR movies via my dad, but I don’t remember having any lasting impressions from that first exposure. The real moment I got thoroughly invested was when I was studying The Hobbit as a part of my ELA (English Language Arts) class in Hong Kong in 2012 when The Hobbit films were coming out. That’s when I really started to participate in a “fandom” like setting online on Tumblr and joined a Tolkien roleplay community where I was introduced to The Silmarillion in around 2014. From there I began to branch out to The Histories of Middle-earth. I then moved back to the UK in 2015 when I started being exposed to the Tolkien Society, and after attending a few events I’ve recently joined as a member and am due to present at Tolkien 2019 in August. I am currently 19 so I’ve only just fallen out of the young readers category.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Probably the nuances and dualities of pretty much everything in his work. There’s always the theme of hope and triumph, but also cynicism and price of victory in Frodo’s success. There’s the equal capability for all races in Tolkien’s works to both enrich and destroy cultures and one another, but there’s also the moral grey and the debates that can be made about the nature of evil in Tolkien’s world — if the orcs are considered by Tolkien to be entirely irredeemably evil and so separate from the sentient “good” races, then how are they capable of creating and speaking language in the form of Black Speech? (Personally, I’m a big fan of the “it’s a perversion of the Valarin language spoken by the Valar and Maia” theory due to their similar sounding harsh consonants, and how perfectly it fits into the whole evil is a perversion of good idea in Tolkien).
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Probably my discovery of The Silmarillion and its special place in my life — it felt like I had picked up an anthology of myths and histories from a world I didn’t feel as alienated from as opposed to Ancient Greek/Roman mythologies. Those were the stories that stuck with me the most — one of the reasons why I’ve applied for Medical School to become a doctor in the first place is because I was so moved by Fingon’s rescue of Maedhros! Even while on work experience in A&E I was subconsciously picturing myself as a Fingon-like figure, and I really didn’t mind offering my help to the nurses and other staff present whether it was requesting photocopies of paperwork, or cleaning up bodily fluids. The other influence was Eowyn’s decision to transition to a life of healing after experiencing and fighting in war, so in that my career aspirations are very personally linked to Tolkien and the influence his works have had on my life. I’ve also made several close friends, some of whom I’ve known for the better half of a decade now through the online Tolkien fandom space who I still speak to on a regular basis.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
I think as a result of my first lasting impactful exposure to Tolkien’s works being in an academic setting, I’ve tended to read Tolkien in more or less an academic light from the very beginning, and analyses done by other fans online in “meta” posts have definitely influenced the way I read certain characters with a lot more nuance than I might have in my original readings of the text. Who knew the fanbase could be so divided on Fëanor? There’s also the matter of me being a POC (Chinese-British) fan in a fanbase which I would argue has few to no visible POC fan communities which has shaped my interactions within in the fanbases both online and in real life. There’s also the matter of some of the contents of Tolkien’s letters which would be considered rather ignorant today regarding his attitudes towards certain people groups which I would say actually did hurt me quite a bit as a young fan. Why should I continue enjoying a man’s work when he described the features of the only evil irredeemable race as “Mongoloid” when I instead interpreted the majority of Elves to look similar to me in that we both share a similar physical description of fair skin and dark hair? While I definitely still think there are problematic attitudes hidden within even more well-known and documented instances of real-life people groups (*cough*Easterlings*cough*) being given problematic treatment in both the films and the original texts, I’d like to think that he was more enlightened than the average person of his time and as such his particular views on race and ethnicity are a product of his time. And with that, I can safely continue enjoying and consuming Tolkien content to my heart’s desire with a sound mind so long as I take those small problematic details when they pop up with a generous sprinkling of salt.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Definitely! There’s a piece of Tolkien’s work everyone can appreciate, embrace and participate in whether it’s the “not all those who wander are lost” fridge magnet quote, the Peter Jackson movies, the Hobbit and LOTR books, or The Silmarillion and other posthumous works. Personally, I’ve been able to take the most out of the Silmarillion as my go-to work which I guess warrants a label of being a little pretentious, but I don’t mind. That’s just my personal experience and everyone else is entitled to their own just as I am to mine.
For more Tolkien talk from Elyanna C., you can follow her on Twitter!