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 Marie 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 Marie Bretagnolle’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I discovered Tolkien thanks to Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations. I was too young to see the first two in the cinema, but my grand-parents took me to see The Return of the King, which felt like a quest of my own. I didn’t dive into the books right away. Instead, I found myself in a bookshop one day, and at the bottom of some shelves I spotted Alan Lee’s Sketchbook for The Lord of the Rings. To this day it is probably the book I’ve read and loved the most. Even more than the movies, I think it was Alan Lee who opened the door to Middle-earth for me.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
What I love about Tolkien is the depth of his creation. There is always information to be found somewhere about an obscure reference made in passing in one of the stories.
I also love how he inspires other creatives, artists of all kinds, in endlessly different styles.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Since I can’t remember reading The Lord of the Rings in French for the first time, I cling to the memory of reading it for the first time in English while on a language stay in England. While my friend frolicked in the (cold) waves after class, I stayed safely dry on the beach and read about the fellowship’s journey.
As for The Silmarillion, I remember my first experience (in French too) though I cannot date it. It mesmerized for three whole days, making me forget about meal-times, and baffling me with endless lists of characters. I was completely lost and couldn’t remember who was whom long enough to understand what was going on, but the story enthralled me and when it ended I closed the book as one wakes from a deep sleep.
More recently, attending my first Oxonmoot in 2018 and being given the opportunity to present my research at Tolkien2019 in Birmingham have been experiences which will stay with me for a long time.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Definitely. I’ve been reading his works for pleasure for years, but at university I discovered they were a perfectly acceptable subject of research. I did a Master’s degree in contemporary Art for which I studied Alan Lee’s illustrations for the Centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings. In these two years, I only scratched the surface of a deep field of study, so I am now in the third year of my PhD, writing a thesis on interior illustrations for British and American editions of Tolkien’s Middle-earth narratives. I’m happy to report it has not diminished my reading pleasure!
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I would recommend Tolkien’s works, but maybe not for everyone, and I wouldn’t recommend the same stories for everyone. For people with an interest in fantasy, depending on their preferences or age I’d recommend to start either with The Hobbit or The Children of Húrin. For people not used to reading fantasy, I’d recommend Leaf by Niggle. It is one of my favourite piece of writing by him.
You can follow Marie Bretagnolle’s PhD work on her blog, or you can follow her on Twitter!