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 Annie B 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 Annie B’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I was probably 4 or 5 years old when I was first introduced to The Lord of the Rings. My parents took my sisters and I on a picnic to Lake Michigan on a Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee. We were in the car when the PBS broadcast came on for LOTR and I remember listening intently and being fascinated by the characters and story. I was a fan from that moment on and read The Hobbit years later but have returned time and again to his works. When I began my PhD work several years ago, I was not intending to study Tolkien but through a chance visit to Marquette University I was once again set on the path of adventure. After my visit to Marquette, I could not deny how much Tolkien’s spoke to me, especially in his relationships with the women in his life. As a result of this experience I became a Tolkien scholar and am working on the layering of women within his academic and fantasy portfolio from their origins in original Norse and early medieval poetry.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I love all of Tolkien’s fantasy works but my true affinity lies with his poetry, especially his academic works. I find his language development and verse truly magical, especially his rewriting of women. He creates deep and powerful figures who transcend the pages they occupy; his translations often hone in on otherwise marginalized figures and offer them a chance to speak of the power they possess in the works themselves but also through history. It is through his poetry that I discovered much of the underlying ideas of history and strength within his female characters. This is especially evident in his manuscripts and personal notes from his undergraduate days, which I find engrossing and inspiring.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I have so many fond experiences but I think reading the stories to my children and having them love the characters and stories as much as I do is truly eye-opening. My youngest even had to dress up as Samwise Gamgee for Halloween one year. A close second would be my time sitting down with the manuscripts at Marquette University. I was searching through microfilm/fische on Galadriel (I think) and came across his notes on scansion on “The Owl and the Nightingale.” I was in awe, it was a curious glimpse into the mind of a serious thinker; at that moment I realized the depth of his genius and his teaching. Tolkien’s writing has always reached out to me but through his academic work, I have begun to understand what an influential medievalist he was, and through his written examples I understand my own affinity for Medieval verse and history – the real history.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Absolutely, especially as a teacher and in my own research techniques, my approach has become much slower and more directed. I laughed out loud at Andrew Higgins’s commentary on your recent podcast, he mentioned the hours of transcribing a certain document, only to find the typescript a few boxes down the line, and that those hours of work can be so telling—I have done this so many times. Working with his personal papers has taught me to really savor each layer of his writing and focus on the process as well as the construction.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Yes, I do everyday. Actually his works are one of my favorite gifts to give, especially to my students. He teaches us so much about humanity and the creative mind through his world building and character relations. I can’t help but feel privy to a special community that embraces you as you read and experience his creations; it is a feeling I want to impart to others if I can. As a teacher I want my students to understand the kindness and understanding that comes from a whole new world. Teaching empathy—even through darkness and despair—is something that we all need to experience and maybe can help someone else understand that kindness and love really are the greatest things in life. I am trying to get a Smial off the ground here in Cleveland, Ohio and eventually would love to bring a Tolkien conference to Kent State University.