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 Rachel 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 Rachel R’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
For some reason I never discovered the copy of The Hobbit that my brother had, later I found out that we owned both the English and a German version of that book but it was never much discussed in our family. Many years later, I must have been 14 or 15 years old, I hung out with a good friend and somehow the conversation got to The Lord of the Rings (the Peter Jackson movies). I had no idea what he was talking about and after his initial consternation of this educational gap of mine he sat me down and we watched the whole trilogy right then and there – and I was hooked. I instantly fell in love with the movies the whole feel of the story and the characters, everything was so incredibly epic.
I went home that day and told my parents my wish for my upcoming birthday are those movies. My birthday came around, I opened my present and instead of my new favourite movies I held a paperback book trilogy in hands, green books with weird covers. To be honest I was quite disappointed but looking back I am eternally grateful to my parents because that is where my love for Tolkien really started even though they got me the worst of the available German translations, but back then I didn’t know about that so it didn’t really bother me. I started reading and could not get into it, at all. I dragged myself through book one (out of seven) and the only reason I didn’t give up on it was because I knew the movies were amazing and so this book was bound to become epic at some point. I willed myself through that first book and I’m glad I did because for some reason with the start of book two I could not put it down.
Once I was done with the appendices I bought myself a copy of The Silmarillion and devoured that as well. I was held captured by the beauty, the tragedy and the vastness of that world I didn’t know existed before. It was after that when I discovered The Hobbit at home. And since then to this day I jump at every opportunity to learn more and dive deeper into Tolkien’s legendarium or other works.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I think what I admire most is that I can’t seem to grow weary of Tolkien’s writings. These books get better every time you read them. Whenever I reread LOTR or The Hobbit or any of the other works I discover new dimensions, new aspects of the story and a greater fondness and respect for their creator. The more I know about Tolkien and his legendarium the more intriguing, capturing and satisfying it gets. I love that I can grow with these stories and each time I read them different parts become memorable and important to me.
The first time I read LOTR I skipped the poems, thought Frodo was the most annoying character and was bored to death by the first book. Now the poems are one of my favourite part. I admire Frodo, and I cannot understand my past self because I adore the beauty of the language in the first chapters. There is so much happening and it is not boring at all. But all that I attribute to my greater knowledge and understanding of both the works of Tolkien and life in general. And I know that there is so much more to discover, after all I am still pretty young and cannot yet look back on a 50 years history with reading these amazing books, but I can whole-heartedly say that I look forward to that day
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
This is a tough one because there are a lot of those. But one great experience was a sleep over I had with a few girl friends when we were still in high school. We decided to marathon all three LOTR extended editions and for some reason that was THE funniest watching of the movies I ever had. We made fun of the Balrog for having wings and not being able to fly with them and the whole day was very chaotic and silly but absolutely great.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Oh certainly. I started out reading Tolkien in German, my mother tongue/ At some point I moved on to reading the original in English which in turns shifted my interest towards different translations and their faithfulness to the original.
I have become much more of a collector over the years to the point of alienation of my family and friends who do not share nor understand my obsession. I am far more open to scholarly approaches to his work and I really enjoy diving beneath the finished story to discover influences, early drafts and all the ‘behind the scenes’ material that is out there. At some point I realized that I actually read Beowulf looong before even discovering Tolkien and it’s great being able to trace his works back to the legends and myths I adored when I was a child.
On the other hand, I started collecting translations of LOTR. In 2015 I bought a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in traditional Chinese in a bookstore in Chengdu, China. I did not have any hope to ever be able to read this book, but I just couldn’t leave it there for some reason. It was really intriguing to see the map of middle earth, that I knew so well, with these foreign characters on it and it was simply beautiful. Since then I purchase one LOTR book in each country I visit in the local language (sometimes I pick up a copy of The Hobbit if no LOTR translation is available). This way I connect real life memories with the books I love and this realization that Tolkien is read all over the world, in front of different cultural backgrounds and circumstances, and it still talks to each and every person so individually is incredible to me. And I’m trying to read all my books at least once (those in the languages I master).
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Absolutely, I think everyone should watch the movies at least once (if possible the extended editions) because they are a cinematic masterpiece. But I also think everyone who has seen the movies should not stop there because, lets be honest, the real story is on the pages. Tolkien’s work has taught me so much especially in sharing a similar Christian worldview with the Professor, and I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on that.
Now, I don’t force Tolkien on anyone but his works are so prominent in my life it’s hard to know me and not get in contact with it. And I’m happy about every opportunity to talk about it with fellow enthusiasts.