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 Elvish Black’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
It was around – my dad loved the books. I was an avid reader from a young age, but I think we tried The Hobbit too young. I enjoyed paging through to find the poems and songs, but didn’t really read the book. I didn’t see the appeal of a protagonist who had no interest in adventures. I remember riding my bike down the big hill from the pool shouting the lyrics of the elves in Rivendell – Oh, what are you doing!
I was into Dungeons & Dragons as well, and had read the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual even though the campaigns my brother and I wrote were simplistic and didn’t ever get very far. My parents were watching The Two Towers once in the computer room on the little tv by the day bed. I asked if I could join them. Their response was ‘sure, but it’s a movie with no beginning and no end.’
I didn’t even realise it was a fantasy movie, because the split Fellowship meant we mostly saw characters the same height and I had mostly seen either realism OR fantasy, but not both.
I distinctly recall Sam talking about ‘llama’s bread’ and that I thought I had heard the word ‘elvish’ when he was talking about foreign food but I was pretty confused how that all fit together. Why would elves have llamas?
I recognized Treebeard as soon as I saw him. Ran downstairs to get the Monster Manual and paged through it to find the treents, proudly showing my parents. I was more curious about the movie at this point but still really didn’t understand.
At eleven I got my first crush. It was on a redheaded boy in my class, and I heard he liked The Lord of the Rings, so I was ready to give it another try. My first readthrough was so successful that I decided I didn’t care a whit about boys anymore, this book was so so much better. I was absolutely hooked.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
The way it speaks to universal Truth without necessarily being true in the sense that it happened. It seems to speak to deeper things that are rarely reached in words. I particularly liked reading about Elves, and the idea of experiencing reality in a way slightly inhuman. The core of all things being song. The power of linguistic aesthetic. The broken references that to the author are not so broken.
The Lord of the Rings will always be my favorite to read, as much as I like the rest of it.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Choosing one would be too difficult.
I started writing Tengwar in seventh grade, and it influenced my handwriting. I started learning Sindarin and my father gave me a journal of his Quenya notes from when he was a teenager. I got nicknamed Elvish in high school, and I still use that professionally today. I played The Lord of the Rings online for over a decade, met some incredible people and wrote intense stories with them. The biggest compliment to my elves was when someone said they were a bit alien, not quite human.
I went on a life-changing trip to New Zealand to see some of the film locations and met more wonderful people there. I married my husband in a bilingual English/Sindarin ceremony and we honeymooned in Switzerland to see the inspiration of the Lonely Mountain and Rivendell, with a stop in the UK to see the Tolkien: The Maker of Middle-earth exhibit.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
The most stark change was at the Maker of Middle-earth exhibit. Something about that experience made me relax very much about my own stories and somehow care less about devoting myself to corralling the group I would play with into coming together and having the same perspective on things. I only get one life and if I am going to create it needs to be less strict in how it develops. My characters can only be hindered by my being too strict on them.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Of course. To everyone. I think that different people get different things out of Tolkien’s work, but the depth and magic of it is unmatched. I also believe that it is a spiritual experience.