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 Pauline 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 Pauline’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
Quite honestly, I’ve been rather lucky. It all happened 20 years ago (!) : When I was 11, one of my teachers told us about The Hobbit; she really wanted us to read, to become readers, to discover the wonderful worlds hidden behind book covers, and it’s crazy how I perfectly remember her presenting The Hobbit to our class (an illustrated edition). And I perfectly remember how I told myself that ‘Yes I SHOULD read this book’! I didn’t immediately though… but a few weeks later, Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring was opening in French theatres, and my father (who had read The Lord of the Rings as a teenager), took me to the cinema. I remember my amazement accompanying those first steps into Middle-earth ; I knew I wanted to be part of it, although I didn’t really catch everything about the plot!
It’s only a few months later, when my dad came back home with the VHS (!!!) of The Fellowship of the Ring, that I finally understood what I was watching and I loved it ; I then read the books, first The Hobbit, then the LotR. And little by little, I discovered the hidden part of the iceberg: The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales, and the whole History of Middle-earth, followed by Tolkien’s scholarly writings, and other scholarly works about Tolkien, in both French and English
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I’m what I call “an elder-days-lover”. I obviously love the LotR, I read and reread it passionately, but the Noldorin part of me always returns to Beleriand, or even farther! To Tirion, or even Cuiviénen! The discovery of The Silmarillion and HoMe changed everything in my life, both personal and professional. I have a deep affection of the last volumes of HoMe ; “The Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” is one of my favourite texts, but I’m also fascinated by the “Laws and Customs of the Eldar” and “Myths Transformed.” I read “The Shibboleth of Fëanor” way too many times, along with the chapter about Maeglin that we find in The War of the Jewels (those are just a few examples of my favourite parts).
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Ah, that’s a tough question!
I should mention here that my first attempt at translation happened with one of his texts ; long story short, I was part of Tolkien fan group on Facebook, and I wanted to discuss a part of HoMe that hadn’t yet been translated into French, but most of the members didn’t speak/read English; so I translated excerpts of those texts for them. That’s how I realized how much I loved translating, and that’s why now I’m studying to become a professional literary translator!
Working on my own on Tolkien’s texts also made me realized how much I loved studying: It might seem weird, but I had left university for a couple of years when I started digging deeper into his works and related works: it made me understand how important it was for me. That’s why I returned to university to complete a second degree, and that’s how I was finally able to follow a training in translation!
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Oooh yes! Remember, I mostly encountered Tolkien through PJ’s first trilogy! After I read and reread all of Tolkien’s texts about Middle-earth, my perspective greatly evolved ; not only about the first trilogy (which I somehow judge more severely now, but which will always be special to me because they represent the window through which I discovered Arda), but also about the texts! After all, I grew up with those texts, and my interpretation of them, my approach to the characters and to the events evolved with me; partly because I don’t see the world today as I did when I was 20, but also because of my increasing knowledge about Tolkien not only as a writer, but also as professor and as a man. Besides, I said, I enjoy reading scholarly works about Tolkien precisely because they help me look at Arda through other perspectives; I don’t always agree, but at least it allows me to take some distance with my own vision of Tolkien’s world – and I love that!
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I always do recommend it, but not always with the same arguments! It depends on who I’m talking to
A quick example: I live in Paris, so I had the magical opportunities to go and return (9 times, up to now) to the wonderful Tolkien exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. I took a lot of people there: friends, parents or aunts, people who didn’t know ANYTHING about Tolkien. None of them had read the books, only some of them had watched the Peter Jackson’s movies… But they were all fascinated by the exhibition and asked me where they should start if they wanted to read Tolkien’s texts. For my friends still in their 20s, I recommended starting with The Hobbit and, if they enjoy it, LOTR. As for my parents and aunts I mostly recommended starting with The Children of Hurin, which, even though it is related to the whole Silmarillion material, stands very well as a story in itself, and is maybe more appealing to people who don’t usually read fantasy. Mr Bliss and Revorandom I will soon offer to my young niece, both in French and English, and I also plan to record myself reading them so that she can listen to those stories as soon as possible!… then, I hope she’ll ask for more.
The (hi)stories of Arda can appeal to anyone because the themes treated are universal; but not everyone would have the time/patience to read The Lord of The Rings, or The Silmarillion. But Tolkien treated so many genres, so many literatures, that I believe anyone can find something, a book or a story, which will delight them.
You can find Pauline on Twitter!