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 Catherine 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 Catherine Warr’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I remember the moment very clearly. I hadn’t watched or read anything Tolkien when I was little, and the first time I experienced it was when I was walking round a car boot sale when I was very young, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted the DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring. I hadn’t a clue what it was, but, being interested in knights and castles and all things fantasy, I thought I’d give it a shot. I was hooked immediately.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I touch on this in a later question, but the depictions of the Shire and Rohan always were particularly powerful for me. The Shire was quintessential, picture-postcard England, a romanticised, pre-Industrial Arcadia which nevertheless touched on something real. The fight for survival of the Shire always struck me particularly powerfully as I view the same thing to be happening today. I’ve come to appreciate that latter aspect more nowadays, as I’m older. When I was younger, I was obsessed with Rohan – I just loved the aesthetic and how it mirrored the Anglo-Saxons.
Finally, growing up as a tomboy, I was always incredibly grateful for characters like Eowyn who weren’t typical girls, because I could finally relate to her. I hated dolls and dresses and makeup, and whereas most fantasy stories have their female princesses obsessed with exactly that, I was finally happy to have a fictional female character who legitimised my own interests – showing me it was okay for me to want to play with swords.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Not an experience per se, but how it influenced me growing up. Every since I can remember, every week my parents took me out to visit a historic house, castle, museum, site of interest etc, and, as kids do, I would often project LOTR onto places I visited. Visiting a forest? I’d imagine epic battles between orcs and Aragorn. Visiting something Anglo-Saxon? That’s straight out of Rohan. LOTR was for a long time my obsession and informed, for a long time, my interpretation of the world. Tolkien’s Shire was the perfect, idealistic vision of the countryside I’d go for rides out in, and it still forms my mental image of perfect England – *my* England.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
I’ve found that, as I’ve got older, I’ve come to notice and understand the analogies and metaphors in The Lord of the Rings more than when I was a kid. When I was younger, it was just a jolly good fantasy romp. But now, I’ve come to appreciate the deeper meanings. For example, though not explicitly intended by Tolkien, the way characters describe the power of the Ring comes very close to descriptions of the power and effects of sin, and Tolkien’s Catholicism almost might have had something of a subconscious influence on this.
I’ve found his descriptions of the Shire particularly more powerful now, especially with the theme of the destruction of the countryside and ‘old ways’ of life for the purpose of advancements in technology and industry – it’s something I never grasped as a kid.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Of course! It formed a huge obsession of mine as a kid and really shaped my interests and activities. LOTR often gets criticised for being too simplistic, too goodies-vs-baddies, in contrast to works like A Song of Ice and Fire. But I think that’s missing the point – we never, for example, say that Beauty and the Beast is unrealistic, because we understand that that was never the point or intention. LOTR is the most magnificent modern expression of the most fundamental theme in world storytelling – of the triumph of good over evil.
You can hear more from Catherine at her YouTube channel: Yorkshire’s Hidden History!