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 Gene 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 Gene Little’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I’m a little uncertain as to exactly how, but it is definitely one of the two following ways.
Firstly, back in the late ‘70’s a highlight of my week was getting the bus to the library after school every Wednesday, which was always wet and grey (I was given 10p for the bus ride which left change for sweets!). In the cosy, book-smelling library on the edge of Boultham Park in Lincoln, I first came across The Hobbit.
However, this was around the same time that I first saw Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings; the film poster being such a familiar memory of my childhood, with my father still commenting today on how I knew every word of the film.
However, this was all reinforced through my additional interest in, what were called then, the “Dark Ages” as well as traipsing around the Spring or Autumnal Lincolnshire countryside (usually following a small group of us being dropped off 20-25 miles from home and having to work our way home); to this day, the smell of burning vegetation, especially on a cold misty day remind me of this. These interests and experiences felt very Tolkienisitic (is that a word?) and were further reinforced through the release of Games Workshop’s ‘Middle Earth Role Playing’ system (MERP)
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
A difficult one. It used to be predominantly LOTR, specifically The Two Towers with its stronger Anglo-Saxon influence. I now have a real fondness for The Silmarillion, especially the more expanded Children of Húrin, although On Fairy-Stories strikes a deep note with me, encapsulating the explanation of that ‘mythic’ hole many of us feel, but struggle to describe for various reasons. Also, recently I’ve found myself preoccupied with The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún (following a recent Smial meeting where the topic was Dragons and I became a little obsessed with Fafnir in preparation) and also The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth; Anglo-Saxons again!
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Here, I must refer back to the cosy warmth I associate with my library expeditions. The cosy warmth, a comfort blanket if you will, is literally my fondest memory:
I remember cold, damp Sunday mornings when I was perhaps 9 or 10, made worse by the lack of double glazing in a terraced ex-council house, cosily blanketed on my bed, close to the radiator and reading Bilbo’s exploits in the Elven Halls.
With my exposure to these parts of Tolkien’s work (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), I do feel that these certainly shaped my identity early on.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes, indeed. At the start of the ‘90’s, I found myself as a young father with a young family and unable to indulge my own ‘childish’ interests, regardless of their connection to my identity. Career also beckoned, demanding my attention on a professional ‘time-burgling’ scale. My children grew and pursued their own lives, as did both myself and my wife. Upon meeting my new partner I have now been able to indulge my prior interests.
Since last doing this, I have developed ‘maturer’ interests in history, poetry, literature, philosophy and science. Upon re-visiting Tolkien, I have found that comfort blanket still there, exuding a warmth and fleece-like touch, but now I desire the extra understanding, to study the loom upon which the blanket was made.
And with Tolkien, this is abundant! So, I find myself desiring to know and understand more rather than just enjoying Bilbo’s exploits in the Elven-Halls at face-value; language, history, myth…
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Many people would not express an interest in Tolkien, either directly or even through an interest in mine own interests; my own passion for Tolkien does not blind me to the understanding that for many, he is not regarded as a ‘serious’ interest for the field of literature. This may also have been reinforced by the films which suggest ‘escapism’ and ‘disbelief’ from the real world (see On Fairy-Stories for a better understanding of these words… 😉 )
Indeed, the word ‘literature’ can be enough to put some people off…
However, should they express any sort of interest, then yes I would definitely recommend him for all the above reasons!
*aside – I do not regard myself as the bore at the dinner table endlessly promoting a subject that others have no interest in…regardless of what they say!