Phil Dean’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (91)

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 Phil 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 Phil Dean‘s responses:

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

Well it’s been the best part of forty years since I discovered Tolkien, so my recollection of this is slightly hazy. I do remember my parents buying me The Lord of the Rings as a gift, and I still have the rather battered and worn remains of these three books to this day – the 1981 Unwin editions, complete with the gorgeous cover art of Pauline Baynes. But I think prior to this I had been enthralled by a copy of The Hobbit I’d borrowed from the school library, attracted by Tolkien’s own marvelously evocative cover painting, which led to me spending an awful lot of time drawing mountain ranges of my own!

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

I’d have to say The Lord of the Rings. Because it’s such a lengthy tale, you get to immerse yourself in Middle-earth for such a long time, to the point where I find it really rather depressing to have to leave it at the end. I’ll try and find time to read it every year or two, and I never enjoy it any less for knowing it so well. But I find The Silmarillion to be a jaw-droppingly awesome piece of work, one which I’ve learnt to appreciate more and more the older I get. This is the real heart of Tolkien’s work, and it is a truly astonishing achievement. And I feel like it would be remiss of me not to mention “Leaf By Niggle,” a little work of genius which I think gives us a very insightful look at Tolkien himself.

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

This is going to perhaps sound rather heretical to some, but spending a day at Hobbiton in New Zealand was amazing. I know that of course in reality it’s simply a movie set, but I loved Peter Jackson’s movies and – for good or bad – his superb visual representation of many of the locations in The Lord of the Rings have become embedded in my mind, and many others. Having an ale in The Green Dragon was brilliant, but standing outside Bag End brought a tear to my eye. “In a hole in the ground their lived a hobbit” – and there I was actually standing outside the front door of that hole. Sure, it’s not really that hole, but it felt like it was. I’ve travelled a lot and visited countless historical marvels, but this felt as real as any of them to me.

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

Yes, very much so. First and foremost I love the stories for what they are – great stories, and that hasn’t changed at all. And I’ve always loved reading mythology and history, so I was able to appreciate what a great work The Silmarillion was outside of the stories themselves. But it wasn’t until I started listening to the podcasts of the Tolkien Professor (Corey Olsen) five or six years ago that I truly began to understand Tolkien’s work on a deeper level. Olsen revealed so many layers that I’d been hitherto unaware of, and it felt like I discovered the books all over again. Realising that Bombadil was actually speaking in a sort of accentual Anglo-Saxon verse blew my mind!

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

Absolutely I would – at least to a certain type of person. Tolkien is one of the best writers at connecting us to something buried deep inside, to a world of faerie, of fantasy. To something other than everyday existence. I think the human mind needs this, and is much poorer when bereft of it. It is perhaps the one place we’re truly free. Of course many people are not going to read about elves or hobbits regardless of how good the story is, and that’s just fine – there are many other gateways to walk through!

You can find much more from Phil Dean on his website!

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