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 Peg 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 Peg Powler’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
The first reference I remember came in a novel I read in early childhood, though I don’t recall either title or author. In it the characters read The Lord of the Rings together in the evenings to give them sustenance through a time of difficulty. The way LotR was described, the richness of its contents, intrigued me, but I never came across any Tolkien in my local library. I loved fantasy and I devoured the work of authors like Alan Garner, George MacDonald, Alison Uttley, Peter Dickinson and Rosemary Sutcliff.
I didn’t actually read LotR until I was 16 or 17, when a close friend urged me to buy the books. Back then, the cost represented a significant outlay, but once I’d begun to read Fellowship I couldn’t relax until I had the other volumes lined up ready. Subsequently I read Humphrey Carpenter’s biography (feeling rather sorry for Edith’s lot) and toyed briefly with the idea of studying philology at Leeds – in which case I would have been taught by Tom Shippey!
By my mid-twenties, I’d re-read LotR several times, and The Silmarillion once, but by then I’d been coping with severe health problems for some years, so I set Tolkien aside. Admittedly, my reading of him then was rather superficial, given my physical and cognitive debility
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Being close to the natural world has been essential to me my whole life. Tolkien’s evocations of weather, sky, hills, trees, scents and sounds, the seasons and times of day and night still have the power to enchant. All this, together with the sense of mystery and otherness has meant certain parts of LotR, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales have stayed with me vividly since my first reading: the journey to Rivendell; the departure from Lothlorien; travels through Ithilien (I’m retiring there); the long, quiet return journey through the lands of Middle-earth back to the Shire, parting with friends along the way; the progress of Ungoliant and Melkor through Aman; the Helcaraxë; Tuor’s journey along the Rainbow Cleft and down into Beleriand.
The themes of persistence in the face of certain loss, eventual consolation, questions of death and the implications of immortality, the mythic atmosphere, the transmission of memory and the evocation of passing ages are all aspects of Tolkien’s work that I find endlessly absorbing.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Coming back to reading Tolkien after a gap of 25-30 years, while sitting in my rural garden over a long bright summer, I felt as though The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion were completely different books to the ones I had read in my youth. I thought I knew them.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Coming back to Tolkien after so long, I can appreciate much more now the depth and complexity of his themes, and the subtle psychological portraits of certain characters. The Silmarillion, which I’d found a beautiful but baffling slog at 20, I now find an engrossing story cycle of creation and fate.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been reading works of Tolkien criticism for the first time. Verlyn Flieger’s work in particular has been a revelation to me.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
No. I think about my schoolfriend (a friend to this day) who encouraged me to buy Fellowship all those years ago. When we were studying for our A Levels, she tried to write about LotR for one of her Eng. Lit. dissertations, but the department treated the idea with derision. I encountered a similar attitude later from friends I made at university. Even my own husband believes fantasy and science fiction are for kids, or for adults who don’t want to grow up! For a large part of my life Tolkien has not been considered worthy of serious attention by intelligent people. Too many people still regard him, and readers of fantasy, myth, legend and folktale, as atavistic and childish. That’s completely wrong of course, but at this stage I’m happy to keep my love of all things Tolkien to myself.