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 Aidan 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 Aidan A’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My mom got super into The Lord of the Rings when the movies came out (I was seven, I think, when the first movie came out) – she’s always been the kind of person to obsess about works of fiction – and she brought me along into them. It took a good long while, though, for me to develop a love for the books specifically; I think I was in middle school when I finally read The Silmarillion and fell in love with Tolkien’s world as more than a neat story.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Two parts, if I’m allowed to break your rules (^^)
One is the languages. I’m a linguist (in no small part prompted by a love of Tolkien). and I find that the names of people and places in most fantasy novels are so linguistically unrealistic that it totally breaks my immersion. Tolkien got the languages right, and his world is so much more flavourful and more immersive because of it. (He even took into account the history of his languages, which is more than most linguists studying real languages do!)
The other is the overall sort of ‘noble and honourable’ atmosphere that Tolkien’s work has. So much other fantasy is focused on exploring the dark sides of human nature (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones), but Tolkien’s is about exploring how people can rise to the occasion and do great deeds for the sake of the good things in the world. Tolkien’s not interested in evil as anything more than a force to be defeated – he clearly takes no pleasure whatsoever in depicting it. I find that honourable and commendable, and I probably couldn’t enjoy his work otherwise.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
A couple of years ago I moved to Papua New Guinea to do documentary linguistics work, and quickly got very sick and didn’t get better for a very long time. I struggled with deciding whether or not I was too sick to stay there – whether I should tough it out and hope things got better or call it a failed attempt and just go home. I’d brought along a copy of The Lord of the Rings, and about that time I came to the passage in The Return of the King where Aragorn marches on the Black Gate. Some of his soldiers end up stopping in the road because they don’t have the courage to go and face what they’re up against, and instead of upbraiding them and shaming them for their lack of courage, he sends them away to guard Cair Andros instead – still helpful work and still honourable, but more in line with what they were able to actually do. That was a super encouraging passage for me, and it helped me have the courage I needed to make the decision to come home and find some other path for my life – which I think was 100% the right decision.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Oh, certainly! When I was very small I think it was much more just a neat story about cool people, and when I got really into it in middle school I think it was more of a fantasy world for my nerdy and awkward self to escape into than anything else. Now I appreciate it as an incredible work of art on Tolkien’s part, and as one of those stories that really says something profound about the world.
I’ve also found, interestingly, that my tolerance for the tragic stories in The Silmarillion has gone down over the years. They’re still very good, but I don’t really enjoy reading them anymore – except for Beren and Lúthien, once I get to the Kinslaying I’m pretty much done with the book.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
100% I would. It’s not for everyone – if epicness and/or fantasy doesn’t do it for you, you probably won’t enjoy it – but I’d say at least The Lord of the Rings is a strong candidate for the best work of fiction ever written. I’d especially recommend it for people like me who like the idea of books like A Game of Thrones but can’t stand how miserably and gratuitously dark and gritty they are.
You can find more from David of The Warden’s Walk on his blog!