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 Charis 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 Charis Loke’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
When I was about ten or eleven years old, my father brought home a set of LOTR paperbacks which he’d purchased when he was pursuing his PhD in the UK (books were much cheaper there than in Malaysia, where I lived). It was fortunate that I was introduced to LOTR then and had about a year or so to devour it + the appendices + learn to write Tengwar before Jackson’s films came out.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Gandalf is my favourite literary character. It takes a bit of digging in the LOTR appendices and Unfinished Tales to find scenes that flesh out his personality further, but he can be as sassy and witty as he is wise and compassionate. The idea of being committed to a mission for thousands of years–far from home–without straying away from one’s principles is inspiring, and something which I began to better appreciate as I got older and started being involved in non-profit education work.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Getting to see his original drawings and manuscripts when they were exhibited at the BnF – I don’t think anything else can compare to that experience. I spent a lot of time marvelling over the fine ink lines in his various depictions of Bilbo and the three trolls and had chills reading the handwritten page where the Riders of Rohan reach the Pelennor Fields.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Over the years different parts of his work (and the fandom) have appealed to me; first, it was the layered worldbuilding, then the characters, then fanfiction which expanded and engaged with the canon in critical ways, and right now it’s the idea of a slower-paced, decades-long approach to being a writer and artist. I am now a full-time illustrator working in publishing; reading Tolkien’s work as a child set me on that path. He was brilliant at providing enough description to evoke vivid imagery, but not so much that it dictated how his world should be portrayed. Hence the myriad of illustrators who have plowed that fertile soil since; John Howe and Donato Giancola’s work, in particular, are inspirations to me.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Yes – there’s a reason why it’s enduring and continues to appeal to readers. The value of Hope that’s espoused in the stories feels very timely in today’s circumstances, even as the issues that we face seem insurmountable. I think a lot about the ‘what weather they shall have is not ours to rule’ passage these days