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 Abram 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 Abram Gregory’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
As a kid I had weaved in and out between fantasy and science fiction, having been raised a fervent fan of Harry Potter and eventually falling for Star Wars on my own. My family went to the midnight releases of each Harry Potter book as long as I could remember, and while I loved each book, I always wanted more to be said of the roles of wizards and mythical creatures. I had gone several years exhaustively poring over Star Wars movies, paperbacks, and video-games, when one day, when I was just barely a teen, an aesthetically pleasing novel caught my eye in the bookstore. It depicted a wizard with a staff auspiciously walking toward an interesting-looking house burrowed into the side of a hill. Over a decade later, Middle-earth has never ceased to capture my intrigue.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
The Hobbit is undoubtedly my favorite Tolkien work so far, though I’m mid-read of The Silmarillion, so this could be subject to change. I’ve read The Hobbit over a half-dozen times and hope to one day read it in Spanish and Irish Gaelic as well as English, just to re-live my first time being immersed in Hobbiton as much as can be replicated. Though the Irish translation of the work, An Hobad, still collects dust on my bookshelf as my proficiency in the language improves, the Irish version of Thorin’s map is permanently with me in the form of a tattoo, which reads “Talamh Bánaithe Smóg”—roughly, “The Desolation of Smaug.”
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
My fondest experience of Tolkien’s work was a visit to the Morgan Library in New York City, which was exhibiting a Tolkien exhibit with artifacts on loan from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I live a train’s ride away from the city, and I felt like an excited little kid again. As the train car traversed the springtime Hudson Valley, I could not help but feel as though I was exiting the Shire, on the way for a grand day trip, personal copy of The Hobbit in hand. I was within the first dozen people in line for a several-hour wait before the museum opened, and my love for Tolkien’s work was paralleled by that of the elderly professor in line behind me. Indeed, our enthusiasm could only have been exceeded by the devotion the professor’s wife must have had for him, given that she committed to accompanying him for the day without having read a single word of Tolkien, but just wanting to see her husband enjoy the frenzy of fans of all ages. Either that, or she had no idea what she was getting into. The exhibit itself was lovely, containing memorabilia and papers from Tolkien’s family life, career as a medievalist, and all things Middle-earth. It was truly gratifying to point to the original drawing of Smaug in Tolkien’s own hand, and then compare it to its reproduction tattooed on my arm. After spending several hours in the exhibit, I just barely escaped the gift shop’s temptation to stock up on Hobbiton’s Meadow Mint tea blend, a blend I’d recommend to anybody.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
I’m too young to have undergone the experience of re-reading Tolkien at different phases of life and discovering new philosophical meaning each time, as my fencing coach assures me I someday will. However, as I approach completing my undergraduate studies in English, studying Old English in an academic setting has given me a newfound appreciation for the aesthetic and linguistic background for the cultures of humans in Middle-earth. Moreover, as I begin my undergraduate thesis on Tolkien and Middle-earth, I hope that further study of Old English, Tolkien’s linguistic work, and further reading of the legendarium can allow me to draw new conclusions about world-building and storytelling that I can implement in my own future career as a writer and academic.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Not only would I recommend Tolkien’s work, but I hope to one day give my children the fantastical experiences with Middle-earth that my parents used Harry Potter’s wizarding world in order to inspire me. At its barest level, Thorin’s companions and the later Fellowship provide positive reconstructions of masculinity that ought to be emulated in the next generation of young men, and examples of strong women in and out of positions of power can be inspirations for girls and young women as well. Through various heroes Middle-earth embody traditional values of valor and honor through meaningful violence as in earlier medieval literature, such violence is preserved only as a last resort. Moreover, though I am not religious, Tolkien deploys the two most important aspects of Christian theology that all people can benefit from pondering: that the most important and profound force compelling humans can and ought to be love; and that peeling back the seemingly senseless thrum of day-to-day life through lore and introspection can tell us about the meaningful, if not the spiritual.
You can find more from Abram Gregory on Instagram!