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 Lukas 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 Lukas Heinen’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I think I was about 10 years old when the movies came out. I think they were my first contact with Tolkien’s world, and watching the Peter Jackson trilogy as I grew up changed my life in so many ways. I felt a deep sympathy with the failing nature of men, I loved Boromir so much for his utter failure – and even more for his brave redemption. I’ve always loved those dramatic stories about knights. I already knew about King Arthur and other historic figures of great tragedy, and somehow I found myself in this. It wasn’t the big heroes of Middle-earth that caught my attention. It wasn’t brave Sam, mighty Aragorn or others, it was the failing characters, such as Boromir, or the seemingly unimportant yet incredibly impactful characters such as Gimli, that warmed my heart. Somehow, I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be part of a world where things were bigger than, you know, school, or later, my day job in the office. The great theme of Hope, Estel, was something that I fully identified with, and it made me the person that I am today: While I do get disheartened occasionally, I always know that the sun will rise at some point, things will get better and will be good at some point.
And then – I read the books. I liked them even better then the movies. It did not feel like fiction, it didn’t even feel like fairy-tale. It felt like history. It felt like an ancient story of a great civilization, it felt like a history that was there before the history of this world. I discovered The Silmarillion (and believe me, the German Silmarillion is even harder to read than the English version!) and I loved it. Fingolfin, Turgon, Finrod Felagund, all these great elven lords. I cried when Huan talked the third time, I was shaking when the Battle of Unnumbered Tears arose, and I trembled upon the description of the heroic deeds on that day. Until today, Middle-earth remains dearest to my heart. It is my refuge, it is the place I dream of whenever I face today’s hardships, and it makes me think: “Why can’t we all be like the heroes of these stories?”
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
There’s so much: The Battle of Unnumbered Tears, The charge of the Rohirrim on the Pelennor fields. However, my actual favorite part is: Imrahil, Lord of Dol Amroth! I love when he is coming to Minas Tirith and you can see and feel the old spirit of Westernis strong in his people. It is a shame, an absolute shame(!) that they cut him out of the movies and replaced his troops with the ghost-army-ex-machina-of-the-dead. The swan knights of Dol Amroth are what I imagine as the last of the men of the west, fighting for Gondor, for the remains of old Glory, knowing that doom is upon them, yet they fight, they hope, and in the end, Hope is triumphant over Evil.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor
Be it in the movies at Helm’s Deep or at Minas Tirith, be it in the books: Théoden (and also Éomer and the riders of Rohan that stopped singing and only shouted “Death”) and his war cries, his poetic, heroic way of riding into battle, nothing tops that for me.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes, absolutely. I was your generic “uh, the movies are great, have you ever checked out The Silmarillion?!” fan. I knew there was more, but I always enjoyed the stories and didn’t care for the scholarship part for a long time. That changed when I discovered the Prancing Pony Podcast. Alan and Shawn were amazing. Tthrough their podcast, I was introduced to the world of Tolkien scholarship. I started reading through secondary literature, discoreved Tom Shippey, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, a certain Luke Shelton, and so many others! Through them, I discovered the Carpenter biography, found out about John Garth, about Dimitra Fimi, and ever since, my focus changed. I was amazed when I found out to what lengths Tolkien went to make Middle-earth what it is today.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Is that a trick question?
I’d always recommend reading Tolkien. He is, to me, the greatest author of the 20th century.
You can find Lukas Heinen on Facebook!