Hannah’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (153)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Hannah’s responses:

1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My dad read The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story during my childhood

2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

For sentimental reasons I love The Hobbit, but I think a lot of my favorite writing is in LotR. Everything there is so rich, multilayered, and well-considered. I like how he can deal with really dark and serious subjects but also have a jolly time without being blasè about the hard stuff.

3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I taught literature, for a season, in Northern Iraq. I was teaching a group of 9th graders LotR around the same time that ISIS was growing in power and heading toward the area I was teaching in. Almost all of my students were Muslim and struggling with how they should react to other Muslims doing things that were so horrible in the name of their shared beliefs.

We were reading through the section where Gandalf is talking with Saruman about what they should do in response to Sauron’s rise to power. Saruman argues that they, being good, should join Sauron in order to influence him away from doing great evil, thus “lessening” the evil that he is inevitably going to do. Gandalf argues that they should stand against Sauron because that is what True Good would do. We had a long and lively class discussion about this and how it related to what they were dealing with in their real lives. It was good for them to see Gandalf disagree and even go against what the wisest and most knowledgeable of his order thought they should do. They felt empowered to be guided by their own moral compass rather than by what strong outside forces suggested.

I loved that Tolkien wrote something so powerful without knowing how far-reaching its messages would go. He wrote it with love and care because he loved and cared about it, not because he wanted to change the world. And yet he did. His writings have changed the world. I’ve seen it.

4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Absolutley! I went from reading for fun, to reading to teach (i.e. doing lots of research into mythology, learning about Tolkien himself, actively seeking out themes) and now I am re-reading them, slowly, for the love of it.

5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

I do, frequently, but not to everyone. I don’t recommend it to people who are not interested in fantasy or taking on a long reading project. I might suggest The Hobbit or one of his shorter retellings, but his style is not for everyone. And that’s okay!

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