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 Ms. L 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 Ms. L’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
When I was in fifth grade in Southern California, we would take recess after lunch and then return to our classroom to put our heads down and listen to our teacher read us a story. In fifth grade, the story was The Hobbit.
Up to this point in my reading career, I had attempted to read classics my mother bought me – The Little House on the Prairie novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder (I had been named after her, I found out later in life), Little Women, and settled for Nancy Drew Mysteries because at least I wasn’t bored by the mysteries. Everything else didn’t really capture my attention or make me want to read further.
As soon as the teacher began reading, I was enthralled. After class, I asked her the name of the author. I went home and immediately told my mother I wanted to read more from J.R.R. Tolkien. She bought me everything from a used bookstore by him – The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings box set (with the weird, psychedelic Ace cover), The Silmarillion, and the Tolkien Reader.
In two years I advanced from fourth grade to high school levels of reading ability. I use this story to inspire my own students, because my love of reading, which had begun with The Hobbit, led me to become an English teacher.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I was first attracted by the idea of wizards, dwarves and elves, but soon my fascination settled into Tolkien’s concept of elves as being majestic and powerful, specifically represented by Galadriel and Celeborn.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Strangely enough, my fondest experience is looking back at my struggle in reading The Silmarillion. I had attempted to read it several times, but the complexity and the many characters one had to remember would stop me again and again. Finally, as an adult and a teacher, I had a particularly well-behaved silent reading class one year, and was able to read it in its entirety by getting a blank notebook and taking very precise notes, then indexing the entire thing.
Another equally amusing experience was, while in college, writing a genetics breakdown for elvish hair color in the early days of the Internet; the paper is floating out there, still.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
My experience of Tolkien as a child and young adult was isolated. I was reading his works in the late 70’s and early 80’s and was the only person in my immediate peer group that had the patience to read it; many of my friends could read but found the pacing of Fellowship particularly trying. I took notes, re-read, bought Tolkien calendars, read other books by or about Tolkien, read pastiches and fantasy books, but it was all done in isolation.
This changed when The Hobbit animated special came out (and then the animated movie) and I could share my enthusiasm with my friends, and then again when the live-action movies came out and the Internet began to share more information that I could read. It’s now a social experience with various online communities, which I enjoy very much.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I would recommend The Hobbit to almost anyone who might be curious about Tolkien. I think it’s a good indicator to whether they can read The Lord of the Rings, and its pacing and humor are engaging to most age groups. I think there are a few frustrating things about Tolkien’s style – his strange pacing, lack of character description for some key characters, and then dizzyingly precise description of geographical locations; these might stimmy modern readers. Finally, The Silmarillion should not be recommended to the weak-willed *laugh*!