Maria Helena Barrera-Agarwal’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (86)

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 Maria 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 Maria Helena Barrera-Agarwal’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was around nineteen years old, a law student in Quito, Ecuador. I had been a voracious reader since childhood. There were nice bookstores in the city, but none better than Librería Cima, at the time close to the La Alameda park. I had a good friend working there, Ecuadorian bibliophile and author Edgar Freire. I was visiting one day and, as usual, he allowed me to check the basement where they kept some of the books in stock. There I found the three-volume soft cover edition of Lord of the Rings, edited in Spanish by Minotauro, kept together with an elastic band. I had not heard of the author before but was immediately interested. I got the books upstairs and showed them to Edgar. He told me he had been keeping them for himself, but was happy to allow me to buy them. I did not have all the cash at that time – they were expensive – so I came back later in the week and purchased the books.

2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I think I never got over the first pages of The Fellowship of the Ring. I was about to reach the irresponsible tweens that are referred to in the very first page and had a rather nebulous wish to explore and to travel. The book spoke so clearly to my intentions. I still consider it a turning point in my life.

3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

My fondest experience was purchasing The Lord of the Rings for my nine-year-old son. I had spoken about Tolkien so much that he wanted to read his books. I was cautious – he was so young – but relented after some time. He read them and Tolkien became his favorite author.

4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

I reread The Lord of the Rings in my late thirties, in New York, after acquiring English as my fourth language. It was a rediscovery. I loved the translation into Spanish, made by Doménech, but reading the original later in life was a rather different experience. My early interest for change and travel had been fulfilled, and I could perceive, beyond the adventures, the undertones of Tolkien’s spiritual and philosophical ideas. I was also more attuned with the historical background of the books and the complexity of their linguistic content.

5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

Very few books can compare to Tolkien’s. I have recommended his works and will continue to do so, for I do believe it is a privilege and a joy to be able to inhabit these pages as a reader. It is an experience that enriches you in so many, unexpected ways.


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