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 Tim Bolton’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I can squarely lay the blame of my love for Tolkien solely on my older brother, Paul. It would have been his copy of The Hobbit I read. My memory is hazy but I was likely about eight years old. I loved The Hobbit, the story awakened something in me, but I will admit I found The Lord of the Rings harder to tackle and I was in my early teens when I finally read that – I blame the Shire, after the Hobbit I wanted more adventure, so wasn’t quite ready to spend too long with pastoral Hobbits. That has changed, now I am older. I was born a few months after we sadly lost J.R.R. Tolkien, so I was the generation growing up just as gaming in Tolkien hit new heights. My connection with Tolkien, as a young boy, was strengthened by gaming. I have fond memories of the Commodore 64 version of The Hobbit (1982), “Gandalf goes West” and “Thorin sits down and sings about gold” are phrases I still jokingly use. Though those bulbous eyes in the Mirkwood Forest were the bane of me. It all seemed to happen around the same time, probably about 1984. My older brother got the Middle-earth Roleplaying game (1984) and I spent hours looking through the books. I think it was around then that Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings (1978) either came on TV or on VHS. It was a great time to be a young Tolkien fan (and a gamer).
Sadly, at the end of 2019 my older brother lost his battle against struggles with mental health. If there is one thing that has helped me through that, it is all the things he got me into – Tolkien, gaming/rolelplaying, just trying to be a decent person (like the heroes in the books) and helping others.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
That is hard to pin down, it’s multiple things. As a young boy, a sense of adventure and exploration. The map of Wilderland just blew me away. It still does. As I grew older, the Fellowship itself draws me, the friendship – something I feel missing from my own life, a tight-knit group of friends who stick together. I have friends, but scattered all over the place. If there is one thing that draws me really in, it’s the land itself, Middle-earth – the places out there to explore, ruins of past places, the supernatural elements, monsters, the varied cultures. Tolkien’s art is gorgeous and helps visualising it all.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I guess I have a few. It was spending time with Tolkien’s books, exploring Middle-earth. I have poured uncountable hours into that. Doing the same in games, whether it was the C64 Hobbit or currently, Lord of the Rings Online. And I can say joining the Tolkien Society has also given fond memories, seeing people who love it as much as I do, being at the Tolkien 2019 event and even recently at the Tolkien Society seminar, listening to scholars talk with such passion about Tolkien and what he means to them. Tolkien brings people together, and for a wandering loner like myself, it gives me a sense of place and belonging at times I need it.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes! As a child it was adventure and fun. As an adult, that is still there (how could it not be?), but having spent time away (I went to the Dark Side and focused a lot on my other love of Star Wars – again my brother to blame), I realised there was so much more to Tolkien. Little by little, step by step, I dip into Tolkien academia and the future hope of writing my own articles about the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. I have discovered my love of our British past because of Tolkien – the legends, lore and mythology of Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and others. That has shaped me even through doing Art History as a degree and wanting to focus on the ancient world and Middle Ages. In terms of future research, I definitely have a focus – the land itself, nature, ruins and the otherworldly/monstrous. We’ll see where that goes. In the last ten years, I have spent more time visiting places associated with Tolkien – Oxford and Birmingham of course. Not being a driver, I did an expedition which hopefully Bilbo himself would be proud of, getting to a fairly difficult to reach Wayland’s Smithy (near Uffington White Horse) where Tolkien used to picnic. That was a proud moment and also a fantastic experience. As a regular walker, I get the same sense of what Tolkien also felt, a love of the English (British) countryside and the nature around us. It’s a wonderful thing to share with Tolkien. I hope that will work its way into my research and eventual writings – the love of walking. But Tolkien is the gift that keeps giving, the more you read him, the more you find. And I am overwhelmed with the level of Tolkien scholarship out there now – I can’t get enough of it.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Is this a trick question? There are people out there I would not push a Tolkien book into their hands. But those people I know, and I know he’s not just for them. But for everyone else, who loves adventure, sense of history and culture, I would always say to them, give Tolkien a go. As a child and as an adult, I find Tolkien worthy of re-reading over and over. Not quite sure I’ll get the same level as Christopher Lee reading The Lord of the Rings once a year, but I’ll give it a go. And I can happily admit my love of gaming in Middle-earth is something that flows out of me and I am forever recommending the current games to everyone, probably to their annoyance.