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 Christian 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 Christian S. Trenk’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I first got to know Tolkien, as so many of my age did, through Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring. One of my friends – I was in primary school at the time – told me he had won tickets to see a movie, would I like to come. Naturally I agreed and it turned out we went to see the first LotR movie – in a drive-in cinema of all places. The completely alien venue, combined with the otherworldy quality of the film meant: I was enchanted straight away.
For my next birthday, multiple friends – who at that time definitely arranged their birthday presents via our parents conferring – had decided to give me a copy of The Hobbit, so I actually ended up with two copies. And I remember very clearly reading Der Herr der Ringe, the German translation of LotR in a bright-green paperback edition during the next summer holiday while my brother darted off to watch Germany play in the 2002 World Cup finals before then going to see the other movies as they were released.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
My favourite piece of fiction by Tolkien is undeniably Leaf by Niggle. It’s such a curious short story full of a certain gravitas that has always captivated me – long before I actually began to recognize any possible meanings behind it. Especially Tolkien’s description of Niggle as “kindhearted, in a way. You know the sort of kind heart: it made him uncomfortable more often than it made him do anything; and even when he did anything, it did not prevent him from grumbling, losing his temper and swearing (mostly to himself).” That has just always struck a chord with me and the Second Voice’s judgement hast always comforted me a little.
My favourite part of The Lord of the Rings would actually be Book V in which Tolkien masterfully threads together most of the narrative strings he has pulled apart over the course of the previous volume, weaving them together with very clever markers interspersed in the text. It beautifully sets up the hearkening back and eventual finish of Book VI as well. It’s just a masterful piece of pulling together multiple storylines.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Apart from seeing Richard Medrington’s Puppet State Theatre Company Leaf by Niggle stage production for the first time at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe and many times since and always shedding a few tears for the beauty of it?
I was spending a year abroad at a South African school in 2008 and had a long afternoon to myself at a shopping centre there. Naturally, I ended up in the bookshop before long. And perusing the shelves, I happened upon a beautifully white paperback edition of Return of the King which I decided to buy and another book by Tolkien next to it. It was The Treason of Isengard, I think – possibly the volume before or after it – and I bought it as well without understanding what it was I had found. That was the moment when Tolkien’s works acquired a whole new taste for me and the ridiculous chance behind it all is what to this day makes me smile: Something told me to just grab this book,
look at it and buy it even though (or because) there was something weird about it. Bookshops really are a Perilous Realm.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
As mentioned above, I was introduced to Tolkien via the first Jackson movie but read the other LotR volumes before the other films came out. Of course I was enraged at various discrepancies but over time and as I mainly busied myself with the tabletop figurines that came out alongside the films, I lost all sense of the finer distinctions between books and films. I did read The Silmarillion and a few other works connected to the Legendarium but my interest kicked into full gear again when discovering the History of Middle-earth and beginning to glimpse the depth and breadth of Tolkien’s works. A continued interest at university, a few thought-provoking books and a few offhand comments by professors then kicked a more academic interest in Tolkien into gear, so I guess that counts as change?!
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Would I ever NOT recommend it? Well, maybe if someone is looking for some short-lived tension or fast-paced action (Ben Aaronovitch, John Grisham, Robert Harris or Timothy Zahn for that).
Apart from that, Tolkien’s works offer such a variety of tone, style, setting and subject that I honestly think anyone can find something in it. If one approaches, expecting a book version of the films, they will be disappointed of course. If one doesn’t like reading at all, they will be disappointed of course (but also ‘shame!’ For they are missing out on so much). He has written charming little children’s stories like Roverandom and silly jokes like the Father Christmas letters and he has written the near-biblical epoch that we know as The Silmarillion. Whosoever is searching for something beyond those boundaries might be disappointed by Tolkien, but I’m not sure they’ll find it anywhere else either.