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?
When I was about 12, I was on a holiday and my supply of books had run out very quickly already. So my dad gave me The Lord of the Rings books. They were in English, and not being a native speaker with only a couple years of English yet, they proved a challenge, but since I had nothing else, I tried my best. I remember liking it, but as I got to Tom Bombadil, it got confusing on top of the language barrier, so I stopped. Two years later, when The Hobbit movies were about to come out, I picked up The Hobbit, my English now up to the task. I continued with The Lord of the Rings and watched the movies. For a birthday I got gifted tickets to see the trilogy in full with live symphony orchestra and choir accompaniment, which further intensified my love for them. When The Hobbit movies came out I remember having mixed opinions, but essentially, their presence in pop culture is what got me into reading Tolkien.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
The Lord of the Rings books and movies rival for that spot I’d say. I love them for different reasons. But that said, I also love Tolkien’s illustrations, the whole legendarium, the backstory behind the whole creative process, his non-legendarium writings, his non-fiction… I’m very much on the completionist side. The big body of fanworks and the fandom that has sprung up around it is not directly his work, but is a big part of always renewing and intensifying my love for his work. Over all, the whole genre of fantasy echoes and builds on so many of his stories and ideas, even though some part of the genre does this very bluntly, (looking at you, D&D et. al, I love you, but you know what you did).
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Huh, this is a really difficult one, I’m gonna have to give a best-of. Viewing The Lord of the Rings trilogy with a live orchestral soundtrack has to rank really high up, but playing it with our high school orchestra was great in a different way. The Tolkien Exhibition in Paris in January 2020, just a month before the pandemic hit. Figuring out & doing the hike Tolkien did in Switzerland in 1911 (I live reasonably close by) and discovering all those locations in which you can feel moments from the stories take place, or even which are direct inspirations. Discovering obscure Russian Silmarillion musicals during quarantine. Can heartily recommend all of those.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Absolutely. It feels a bit like 3 phases. The first phase was discovering The Hobbit and reading The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. I did have some LotR friends then, but not that many. So I was mostly consuming the media.
In later high school, about when we were playing The Lord of the Rings in orchestra, I was having somewhat of a resurgence of Tolkien fandom. I was looking into studying illustration and for a while got quite obsessed with Tolkien’s art, and Middle-earth art in general (from John Howe & Alan Lee to fandom artists). I drew more of it myself, figured out the Tolkien hike, listened to lots Tolkien podcasts, went to conventions, recorded myself singing the oath of Feanor in Quenya for a group project for The Silmarillion Film Project, things like that. Lots of nerding about about background info, and also trying to engage with communities of fellow nerds, mostly online, since Switzerland is still a developing country for Fantasy as a genre and Tolkien in particular.
The third phase started pretty recently. I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree this spring, and YouTube in all its algorhythmic wisdom decided, that it was gonna recommend the Russian rock opera “finrod-zong” to me now. (If you aren’t familiar with the musical, treat yourself. It’s a Beren and Luthien musical, but the main character is Finrod. It’s really good, there are several versions with subtitles, though the one you wanna start with is the 2014 version). I forced a friend watch it with me, and now we’re belly deep into Russian fantasy musicals. (There’s even a wholly separate Lay of Leithian rock opera coming out.) This has also brought me fully into Tolkien, LotR & Silmarillion twitter & tumblr, where before I only used to lurk on the sidelines. (I hear it’s been having a revival during the pandemic, too). I also have the desire to draw a lot more Tolkien related stuff, which at the moment has to take a backseat due to my bachelor project, but still, my Procreate library has slowly been taken over by LotR content, and for the summer I’m already planning to participate in two Tolkien fan art events. So in a way, this winter and spring, thanks to an obscure Russian musical, I’ve found a lot of new, awesome ways to interact with Tolkien’s work IRL and online.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Absolutely. I am a librarian’s daughter, & I have through that connection been able to increase the city’s biggest library chain’s Tolkien selection from sparse to quite decent. Also, look at the above monologue about Russian Silmarillion musicals, I’m obviously not too shy about recommending things. Of course only to people who seem somewhat interested, not to be overly evangelical about it .