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 Victoria Willey’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My older brothers saw the Fellowship in theaters and that got them into the books. They would tell me about parts of it, sometimes showing me scenes or large portions of the films. Little did they know then, our mom was already somewhat familiar with Tolkien through her favorite author, C.S. Lewis, and later read The Hobbit aloud to my younger brother and me. One of my brothers gifted me the 50th anniversary single-volume edition for my birthday, then later, a copy of The Silmarillion.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
My favorite book is The Silmarillion. I love all of them, but I’ve actually read The Silmarillion more recently and more times than the trilogy. I love how large scale the stories are and how they can suddenly zoom in and give so much detail like in “The Children of Hurin” or “Of Beren and Luthien”. I love the image of the two trees and the stars, characters like Finrod Felagund and Beleg Cuthalion, and the intense, palpable solitude of Eärendil searching the empty streets of Tirion. I could go on about The Silmarillion forever.
My favorite scene, aside from Eärendil, is where Aragorn heals Faramir and Faramir wakes and immediately knows who Aragorn is- better than almost everyone around him, despite having never met him before. That’s also the scene where it dawns on you what Kingsfoil actually means. And Faramir and Eowyn’s whole story in the Houses of Healing.
My favorite element or theme in all the works is probably just the acknowledgment of how an experience can change you so much that you don’t quite fit in your normal home anymore. You start longing for somewhere that’s more “home” than home. And that never leaves. Sometimes it’s a traumatic experience that does it, like bonding with a company of dwarves and then watching some of them die, or carrying a cursed object all the way across the world. But other times, it happens by experiencing something good. Or just other. The forest of Lothlorien or Fangorn, the caverns of Helm’s Deep, or The Sea. People joke about how much Tolkien goes on about trees, but the way he talks about the Sea always hit me hardest and stuck with me the most.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
In 2012, a theater in our town did a showing of all the extended LOTR films, back to back and I got to go see them with my older brother and cousin. It was my first time seeing all of them together, seeing the Extendeds, and the first time seeing The Return of the King.
Much later, my mom- the one who read me The Hobbit– decided to read The Silmarillion aloud to my younger brother and I. I had already read it and probably talked her ear off about it. When it was describing the different Valar, she kept pausing to say “Oh, he’s just borrowing” about how some of them resemble classical deities, implying his work was less original for it. When we got to “Of Beren and Luthien” we stopped in the middle of the chapter and decided to finish it the next day. (She read them to us right before bedtime.) She then took the book to bed with her and finished that chapter herself and when we gathered to hear the rest, she actually said “Ok, pay attention, this story is really good…”
Mainly, though, I think my fondest experience is using it as a kind of shorthand language to communicate with other fans- friends and family. It gives me a vocabulary with which to express things that we don’t talk about much in everyday life, but definitely experience in some form or another. I can reference a scene with a very specific and hard to describe tone and others immediately know what I mean. Once, after turning in my last assignment of the semester in college, I sent a GIF of Frodo saying “It’s over, Sam!” to my siblings and one of them quickly texted back “Breathe the free air again, my friend!” Really, just sharing the experience of it all with others who love it as much as I do is the best part.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
I used to be so annoyed when people would joke that Frodo and Sam were gay. And when it’s meant as an insult, or to imply that their relationship was anything other than wholesome, I still do. But as I’ve gotten to hear more from queer Tolkien fans who ship them and others, I think they mainly appreciate the portrayal of open and very genuine affection that is so rare even in literature and especially in films. I think how we categorize that affection, be it platonic friendship, loyalty, romantic love, or something else, matters less than the fact that it’s displayed in such a positive way. To me, at least. I’m not queer and I don’t personally read Frodo and Sam as a romantic couple, but I think I understand why so many do a little better.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Absolutely. I understand that it can be hard to get through, even though I devoured it, so I don’t always recommend it to anyone. But I hope more and more people keep reading it. I love getting to share it with others.