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 Will 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 Will Sherwood’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My parents bought me the BBC audio tapes of The Hobbit when I was five. It was the one where the narrator is joined by Bilbo’s first-hand interpolations. There was music, sound effects, a Gandalf that I did not find amiable (until Ian McKellen rode onto the big screen) and a setting of the Dwarves song that I remember more fondly than the one that didn’t live beyond ‘An Unexpected Journey’ (a major shame!) It must have been for Christmas because we had our open fire roaring. I remember being curled up on the sofa with the first tape playing, and as Bilbo was listening to the dwarves singing, he was staring into his fire, just as I was staring into my own, starting to drift off into sleep. The enchantment and awakening of Bilbo’s Tookish genes coincided with my own thirst for adventure. Twenty-two years later, I’m about to hand in an MbyRes thesis on Tolkien.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
The vast wealth and interconnectedness of it all. Although you can read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit as a stand-alone text, I find that my reading is strengthened by voraciously consuming as much as I can. From The Silmarillion, to the Unfinished Tales, The Histories of Middle-earth, the various translations of texts (Beowulf, Gawain and the Green Knight), to smaller works like Father Christmas Letters etc etc etc. My appreciation and eternal love lies in the depth of Tolkien’s art.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Standing on top of Mount Sunday where Peter Jackson and his team shot Edoras. It felt like the completion of a pilgrimage. But I suppose that’s more related to the adaptions of Tolkien. Perhaps my fondest experience of Tolkien’s words would be a more collective appreciation of his ecological descriptions. He has an uncanny ability to make you FEEL what he is describing. Whether it be a warming scent passing or the green and gold sunlight. I think Sam’s first sensory experience after waking in ‘The Fields of Cormallen’ most suitably exemplifies my point.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes and no. I continue to delve deeper and deeper into his works, finding new and exciting bits of information in The Histories of Middle-earth. I think one’s approach changes with one’s maturity and outlook on the world. The more you learn and experience, the more you can apply to and extract from his work. But I never relinquish the enjoyment one gains from just reading the stories. My copy of The Hobbit is close to disintegrating because of how many times I’ve read it! I feel like I can switch from scholar to reader quite easily.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I would and would not. My friends can easily be split into those who try to outmatch my love for Tolkien (and fail epically) and those who cannot stand the Oxford don. A lot of jokes have been made for the past twenty years to new people I have met: ‘be careful, he’s a Tolkien nut; don’t tell him you don’t like The Lord of the Rings or he’ll never speak to you!’ It’s a shame that such superficially hyperbolic and inherently wrong judgements are passed to people whose names I have only just learnt. If someone was interested in reading something new I would most certainly recommend Tolkien, if someone wished to start with Tolkien but didn’t know where, I’d eagerly help them. But I would never forsake friendship for an elitist perspective on what my friends should consider art or be reading in their spare time. I also think Tolkien would back this perspective as friendship is, after all, the foundation of The Lord of the Rings.