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 Laura 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 Laura Iseut Lafrance St-Martin’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I am not sure. I have forgotten the context surrounding my first encounter with Tolkien’s work. I must say that following a medical accident my first memory dates only back to when I was 12 years old. This accident affected my episodic memory, which is the part responsible for the personal history (friends, events, books read, etc.), leaving the “abstract memory” intact (language, mathematic, etc.). But the interesting part is that when I woke up after this event, I had not forgotten lore concerning Tolkien’s work, which I should have. I had forgotten everyone except my parents and my sister (including people I saw every day), but I definitely knew who Gandalf was. The only explanation I was given regarding this is that it was so central for me since I was a little child, that it was somewhat stored not as a story but as important knowledge.
According to my mother, I was quite young (probably 5-6 years old) when my sister received a copy of The Hobbit, which she liked moderately. When it was my turn to read it, I loved it so much that I immediately requested the other books.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
As a Ph.D. candidate working on “On Fairy-Stories”, one of my favorite Tolkien’s text is this essay. I think that there is something very powerful and very important in this essay.
Concerning fiction, I really love the first pages of Ainulindalë and I regret that Tolkien did not write more abstract pure cosmogony and mythology.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
When I was 17 years old, I re-read “On Fairy-Stories” and The Lord of the Rings at the end of the semester. I really don’t know why (because I had read these texts before), but that time was really emotional. I experienced a real (and very long) catharsis. It lasted for several weeks and when I emerged for this intense period, I changed many things in my life, including my field of study. These decisions still affect my life today, for example, the subject of my Ph.D. thesis.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes, definitely. From young child to an adult, it would be strange if it had not changed. Almost every time I read LotR, “OFS,” or The Silmarillion, I find something else, something I had not seen before. With time, my relationship with Tolkien’s work has become more ethical and political. Also, Tolkien’s personality and beliefs have become more important.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Yes, of course. But I do know that his work is not for everyone. I don’t think that Tolkien’s works are “universally” good (if it matters, I don’t think that any story can be universally good), but there is something very powerful and meaningful in his work. Not many writers can achieve that level and most people would find something meaningful to them, something that can change them (and possibly make them better persons).
You can read scholarship from Laura Iseut Lafrance St-Martin on her ResearchGate page.