Aidan Wotherspoon’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (171)

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 Aidan Wotherspoon’s responses:

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

I was always aware that The Hobbit existed as a book as long as I could remember, but my first experience actually consuming the story was a local theatrical production of The Hobbit, then that Christmas I was given a one-volume set of the sequel trilogy. This was in the year 2000 and so I soon found out they were making a movie and Magneto was playing Gandalf

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

There are two interpretations of this question, and I want to answer them both. The literal interpretation: my favourite passages in the corpus of Tolkien’s work can be found in the back-to-back chapters of book five of Lord of the Rings: ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’ and ‘The Battle of Pelennor Fields’, when everything crescendoes into this one big clash, it has poetic descriptions of glorious battle, humble and brave deeds of Hobbits and unwanted but devoted followers. The history of barrow blades and ancient battles of the Valar, and the emotional turmoil of kinsmen and kinswoman fallen in battle before the sudden arrival of friends who’ve passed through shadow and darkness. There’s nothing quite like it in any story I’ve read before or since.

Thematically, I am very inspired by the themes of hope and friendship in the face of darkness and despair that run throughout the work. We all have to live in Arda marred, and the characters of Tolkien remind us that day shall come again, the darkness is only a passing thing, and that friends will stand by friends through thick and thin to the bitter end.

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

During the plague of 2020 when the world was in lockdown and I was laid off. I read aloud the entirety of The Lord of the Rings on Facebook Live. The act of reading it aloud was very rewarding in and of itself to appreciate the poetry of a philologist’s writing. I also got many good wishes from my friends and family that tuned in. I must also give an honourable mention to my family’s annual Christmas rewatch of the film trilogy.

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

I think it’s more accurate to say that Tolkien’s work has changed my life, which in turn has changed how I approach Tolkien’s work. When I was 15 I looked at every word of The Silmarillion, but I never quite felt like I had “read” it until, after attending University and grappling with numerous historical texts and academic papers, I became used to reading through and understanding difficult material and I was able to revisit the Elder Days with more ease than I could have thought possible. Recognizing Sindar and Quenya roots in proper nouns in the legendarium by reading the glossaries of The Silmarillion primed me for learning Greek and Latin and barely going a day without pondering the history of tongues.

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

Despite being an atheist, I treat the works of Tolkien’s legendarium as a sacred text and I am prepared to evangelize it to anyone ready to listen.

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