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 Carl W. Brown Jr’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I came upon it on my own, the summer between 5th and 6th grade, age 10 in 1972. I also saw 2001: A Space Odyssey that summer, and generally say that I was never the same after those two things. Unlike perhaps most fans I read LotR first and then The Hobbit, which has given me an odd relationship to the first book because while I loved the story I wasn’t keen on the old-fashioned telling-the-story-to-children style. (I was greatly relieved when reading in Tolkien’s letters that he came to regret that tone himself lol). I was a senior in high school when Silmarillion came out, which was easily the greatest book-publishing event of my life… my local bookstore saved the first copy they took out of the box for me.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I’ll answer this in both the meanings of “part”: in the broader sense the breadth and depth of his creation and the sweep of the narrative from the Elder Days to the end of the Third Age… very few authors have built worlds and peoples that live and breathe the way he did. In the what part of his works aspect, my single favorite moment is Gandalf and Shadowfax facing off against the Morgul-Lord as Grond shatters the gates of Minas Tirith and the horns of the Rohirrim echo off the mountain.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
The sheer delight of reading Silmarillion for the first time, having new Tolkien to read, and not just new but the core of the story really for the first time, and the experience of rereading LotR after reading Silmarillion for the first time, and the added depth of truly understanding the references to the Elder Days… closely followed by seeing Jackson’s version of Fellowship in the theater for the first time and marveling at how well it all was done.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
I still consider LotR my “favorite book”, and as an adult and an historian I am both more aware of his work’s limitations in terms of gender and racial issues but also able to analyze it in the context of both the time it was created in and the reasons for which it was made. His work has all the power and all the problems of most of the classic canon, which I think should be used but carefully examined to make their issues clear.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
The power and resonance of the quest story is undeniable, and in LotR there is little doubt that Tolkien did it as well as anyone ever has. For those fond of detailed world-building, the entire corpus would seem to be required reading. The continuing success of both the books and the 2 movie trilogies shows that it has an appeal even in the 21st century, and I would recommend it to those who like those things, perhaps with a caution that they might find it old-fashioned in several ways.
You can find more from Carl on Twitter!