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 Anna’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My dad introduced me to Peter Jackson’s movies when I was 5 years old. We had them on DVD as they were coming out, and he was trying to get my older sisters into them. Instead of them being interested, I became fascinated with the imaginative people and places of Middle-earth. However, he would always fast forward through the “scary parts” when I was little, so for a long time my understanding was that The Lord of the Rings was just about happy little people with big feet! Eventually I wanted to read the books for myself, and I remember my first copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. It was an edition printed as a promotion for the films, and it had a photo of Elijah Wood as Frodo looking at the Ring on the cover. I still have that book, and it’s my most prized possession.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
My favorite part of Tolkien’s work is the intense emotional response it creates in readers like myself. They aren’t just books or films, they’re an experience. I love that the story is so epic and grand that I can be transported to another world, but that at the same time I can connect on such a personal level with each character. Tolkien captures the big, and the small in such a masterful way. No matter how many times I’ve read the books or watched the movies, I still cry in the same places, or laugh at the same scenes. As someone who has moved around their whole life, being immersed in Tolkien’s work is the one place that I will always feel at home.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I would say that my fondest experience of Tolkien’s work has been how it has allowed me to connect with other people. Ever since I was introduced to The Lord of the Rings at age 5, I’ve met so many new and interesting people because of my passion for Tolkien. It allowed me to bond with my dad, make new friends in school, and go outside of my comfort zone to attend Tolkien-centered events and interact with other hardcore fans. I went to NYC Comic Con in 2018, when Peter Jackson was there promoting Mortal Engines, and waited outside Madison Square Garden at 5am to attend his panel. Most of the people waiting were there because of The Lord of the Rings films, and I will never forget the amazing people I met that morning. The most incredible thing about Tolkien’s work is that as soon as you meet another fan, you have this instant bond connecting you on a very genuine level.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
My approach has certainly changed since I was that little girl. When I was a kid I loved Tolkien’s work for the folklore aspect, but I wasn’t aware of the scope of his work beyond LOTR and The Hobbit. Most of all, at that time it was a means of escape, as well as a bonding experience with my dad. Once I became a bit older, and more able to understand the nuances and emotional complexities of the characters, it took on a deeper level of importance to me. I expanded into The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, Beren and Lúthien, etc. I felt hungry to learn as much as possible, and to memorize as much information as I could. In high school that was my whole identity, it was what people knew about me; the “Lord of the Rings girl.” I even wrote my college application essay on my relationship to Tolkien’s work. Now in the next phase of my life as a young adult, I feel a more scholarly relationship to Tolkien’s work (as well as who he was as a person). Of course, it still remains a source of comfort to me, but I also want to view it in a more critical lens. I think that it is entirely possible to be critical of Tolkien, while still maintaining love and respect for his work. In fact, I think it has greatly enriched my relationship to his works. Throughout all of these changes and evolutions, one thing has always remained the same: the world of Tolkien remains my home.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I would always, always recommend Tolkien’s work. Beyond being beautifully written masterpieces, they are also a cultural phenomenon. I think that everyone can learn something about themselves and the world at large from reading his work. I do think that in 2021, it is important to be cognisant of the cultural complexities of Tolkien’s work (especially in light of the new Amazon show). Nevertheless, I think that one is fully able to be critical of some of Tolkien’s choices while still being able to appreciate the stories. I would hope that the Tolkien community can be a welcoming and safe place for a diverse group of people.