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 David 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 David of The Warden’s Walk’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I grew up reading lots of adventure books, including various fantasy, with The Chronicles of Narnia being most prominent – but I didn’t know anything about Tolkien’s books, and neither did anyone in my family, until I was in the 5th grade. Walking with me through my school’s book fair, my dad saw a boxed set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and thought it looked like an interesting, lengthy reading project for us. Every night that he could, he read them to me. Even though the whole process took us a few years—real-life schedules being what they are—we eventually made it to the end before Peter Jackson’s Return of the King was released in theaters. Funnily enough, I had come to think of myself as a diehard, knowledgeable Tolkien fan before I had actually finished reading the series!
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
My favorite aspect of his work is the way he mixes sorrow and joy in a way almost unutterably beautiful, and then he displays that kind of beauty in images that convey more than the words alone ever could. So in the Ride of the Rohirrim, we get this amazing picture of thousands of men who are facing death and despair without losing their integrity. Or when Sam carries Frodo up Mount Doom, it illustrates a sacrificial, selfless love so strong that it reminds us of what is holy. But the parts that strike me the most are in The Silmarillion, with especially the love story of “Beren and Lúthien” and the mythic adventure of Eärendil the Mariner. Those two stories have so much of joy and sorrow in them, but their beauty is founded in the hope of the final victory of Good. Those are my favorite parts.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I have some fond memories from early in my fandom, when I was that 10 year-old laying on the couch as my dad read Tolkien to me, or when I was a teenager sitting in a theater with a bunch of church friends waiting to see The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time. But at the moment, my fondest and most impactful experience is participating in Dr. Corey Olsen’s Exploring The Lord of the Rings seminar, which is done live weekly. I’ve participated since Day 1 and never before have I been able to discuss Tolkien in such detail and passion with such a wide and diverse group of friendly people.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
As a kid, my focus was squarely on celebrating the sheer awesomeness of the stories with any friends who shared my love, no matter what age they were. Often it was older adults who shared my passion for Tolkien more than my peers. But back then I rarely ventured beyond The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
As I passed into college, my explorations into Tolkien’s work broadened. I had read The Silmarillion and some further books by then, and read about their historical and philological foundations. I sought out academic articles about Tolkien. I compared the films to the books with greater nuance. And I found Dr. Corey Olsen’s podcasts about Tolkien, and ever since have continued to listen and participate in his seminars whenever I can. I’ve begun to appreciate how Tolkien’s stories changed drastically as he wrote them, how much work and thought he put into every aspect, and just how amazingly everything ties together.
While sometimes I read less Tolkien and sometimes read more Tolkien, his works have always remained the most important artistic influences in my life.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
If someone asked me to recommend a book, The Lord of the Rings would always be a top recommendation. You never know what sort of person will love Tolkien. Even if they say they don’t like fantasy, or don’t read long books, or don’t read much at all, it is worth their time to at least read it.
You can find more from David of The Warden’s Walk on his blog!