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 Deborah 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 Deborah Sabo’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My dad, who was a great reader, enjoyed science fiction among other things. From a young age I got reading material by rooting around in cardboard boxes of his old paperbacks. I liked any kind of adventure story, especially if it was science fiction or historical. I had found a book at the library called The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall about a kind of little people called Minnipins who lived in a secret Land Between the Mountains. In one village a group of nonconformist Minnipins get banished and have to live on their own in the wilderness, but they end up saving their village from deadly invaders. It’s a simple story written for children, with lovable characters and valuable messages about friendship, courage, the worth of every individual, and the importance of truth. I read this story over and over and still enjoy it today. I was about 15 when my dad brought home 3 paperback books that he thought, from the cover blurbs, were about the same little people as that book I kept checking out of the library. But they weren’t Minnipins, they were Hobbits. He’d bought The Hobbit and 2 volumes of The Lord of the Rings. I read The Hobbit, was instantly captivated, realized what The Lord of the Rings was and that we needed the other volume because they had to be read in order. I also noticed that we had a mixture of Ace and Ballantine paperbacks, which simply would not do. I used my babysitting money to replace the “unauthorized” Ace volume with a proper Ballantine. My dad and I both read them. Eventually all my close friends and my 3 siblings read them as well.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Definitely The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The stories that are contained in The Silmarillion are majestic, but I do not re-read that book like I do the others. I re-read a couple of the essays frequently and I love Tolkien’s narrative poetry. The Lay of Leithian is one of my favorite Tolkien works. Some of Tolkien’s alliterative poetry is stunning.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Introducing Tolkien to my two young kids by reading The Hobbit aloud to them. My daughter was about 6 at the time, and being a learning reader, she wanted to participate, so her job was to read all the poems when we came to them. She was so proud to play this role. They loved the story and hung on every word. Both remain serious Tolkien fans as adults.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes, the biggest change was when I discovered that there was such a thing as Tolkien scholarship. This happened in the late 90s. I felt a mixture of elation and dismay. On the one hand a whole world of new reading and discovery opened up for me. I’m academic so I was determined to learn as much as I could, to attend conferences, and hopefully to contribute something, even just a small something, though I didn’t have background in any of the disciplines that I saw being brought to Tolkien studies. I took a number of courses online, which offered great opportunities to learn directly from some of the top people. I did manage to achieve some of what I’d hoped to do (I presented a few papers at the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo and at Mythcon, and published an article in Mythlore), and the things I’ve learned have added so much richness and depth and layered meaning to my appreciation of the books. In addition I’ve met so many wonderful people, in person and online, fellow Tolkien lovers I count as friends who have really added a lot of enjoyment to my life. On the other hand, I felt and still feel a kind of regret, as if something had passed me by, because if I’d known earlier in my life that Tolkien scholarship was possible in this world, I think I would have done many things differently.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I don’t really recommend Tolkien directly, but I “insert” him into conversations or activities involving literature (and I have lots of those). If it’s Poetry Month for example, I share something written by Tolkien. I use quotes from Tolkien’s stories, letters, and essays in discussions about other topics. I compare other books that my friends are reading to something or other in Tolkien. Most everyone has heard of him nowadays, so I hope that this more “subversive” kind of recommendation might remind people to give Tolkien another look—remind them that he’s a serious 20th century thinker and writer. But I don’t feel it’s my job to convince people to read him. My friends do know about my interest, and they sometimes ask me things.
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