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 Mel 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 Mel’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My mum introduced me to Tolkien’s work as a young child. We borrowed most of our books from the library, but we owned copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I remember poring over the maps early on and as an avid reader, I finished The Hobbit when I was around 9 and tackled The Lord of the Rings at 11. That first attempt wasn’t hugely successful as I didn’t really understand the themes so I reread it again four more times over the years and each time, enjoyed it more and more. Subconsciously, I suspect that Tolkien also affected my education as I ended up reading English Language and Literature at Leeds University.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I’m enthralled by the stretch of history, culture and landscape in Tolkien’s books. The scope is truly epic and leaves you with the promise of a much larger world. There’s always the sense of the great beyond – in the past, present and future, which is something that very few novels achieve. The West and the Undying Lands are of special interest. They represent that universal longing for a purer, safer existence in the afterlife or in another realm. Tolkien was a genius at capturing our deepest wishes and fears and embedding them in story.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
My fourth reading of The Lord of the Rings in my mid-twenties was totally immersive. I didn’t want to leave Middle-earth and I didn’t have to because the films came out shortly afterwards. My husband, Al and I went to see them every year just after we started going out with each other and so Tolkien has become part of our family history (he also inherited his copies of the books from older family members). Our 7-year-old daughter is too young to read the books, but she has seen snippets of the film adaptations and knows who the key characters are.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Strangely, I’m now reluctant to explore Tolkien’s fictional worlds too deeply because I want to preserve that sense of the unknown. I’ve dipped into The Silmarillion over the years but rather than adding to the mystique of Middle-earth, I’ve found that it diminishes it for me. I’m interested in Tolkien as an academic and illustrator though so these are areas that I’ll continue to explore.
Every reading of his work has been subtly different depending on my outlook at the time. Lately I’ve become more aware of the shortcomings in his writing, particularly the lack of strong female characters and potential issues around depiction of race. Although these aspects haven’t put me off a sixth reread, I think it’s important to consider them as part of an evolving literary landscape.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Tolkien’s work is an essential for any fantasy fiction fan and it’s uplifting to see that his books are still very popular with the YA community on Bookstagram (the bookish arm of Instagram). Readers see his work as part of the literary canon and reading The Lord of the Rings is pretty much a rite of passage. I think all serious bibliophiles should try to read his work at least once.
For more about Tolkien and other literature from Mel, visit her website!