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 Ofer’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
Through Blind Guardian’s album Nightfall in Middle-earth and specifically the song “Nightfall” which was both my first step into Metal music and Tolkien’s legendarium. It was 1998 and I was in 9th grade, I think.
My brother and I really liked the song, so we searched the internet for the lyrics (dealing with the darkening of Valinor, as I was to learn later, but in a somewhat obscure way) and were intrigued. After buying the album and realizing it’s based on The Silmarillion, I started asking around and was told that it’s a work by J.R.R. Tolkien but that you must read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings first, and that you should do it in English. So we got the books in English (Hebrew being our mother-tongue) with the purpose of understanding this Blind Guardian album – a really laborious task for me, since I wasn’t much of a book-reader in any language. I couldn’t get more than half of it after the first reading, and couldn’t understand “Nightfall in Middle-earth,” so I started again (and again and again…).
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
It’s richness and wholesomeness.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Preparing and giving lectures on Tolkien’s works for fan conventions in Israel:
After discovering the lively community we have here, I started inquiring about the Blind Guardian album and the meaning of the songs. I was disappointed to find what I considered very flat answers where I was sure there was much more depth. After hearing a lecture about the connection between Lord of the Rings and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, where the lecturer clearly stated that Tolkien denied any connection (besides both rings being round), I decided that preparing and giving a lecture about Nightfall in Middle-earth and The Silmarillion made way more sense. So I started working on that and found great joy in the literary research and engagement with the text – a bit like solving pieces of a puzzle. The songs really make interesting connections that have strong roots in the text itself (for example comparing Fëanor to Arda, Maedhros to Morgoth, Morgoth to Illuvatar… all quite subtly). There was so much to say that I had to split it into two talks (and still didn’t cover everything). After the first lecture I got a hug of appreciation from one in the audience!
Later I got to give another lecture on a very different topic that also got me extremely excited. There’s a Hebrew author called Yoseph Haim Brenner (1981-1921), which I grew to really love. In some ways he’s completely different from Tolkien (very much concerned with the real world of his time and very much against religion), but I found in him the same kind of richness, wholesomeness and wisdom that I’ve found in Tolkien, and I’ve found that both were using the term of “Sanctification” as something to aspire to. For me it was a huge undertaking and a bit of a rollercoaster (at times doubting if there’s anything to really talk about and in others believing I’m reaching great insights), but again engaging with the texts (this time also letters and articles by Tolkien) was worth it in itself, and I was quite happy with the end result (basically dealing with what makes great art great and how it can affect our lives).
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes, of course.
I grew to understand it a lot better, I believe. I was always interested in the Art of Tolkien (literary art) and still am. I’ve studied visual arts the same time I started reading Tolkien and ever since I’ve been engaged with Art (of all kinds), trying to get a better understanding of it and its importance in my life and in general. Tolkien’s work and essays have taught me a lot, as well as comparing it to other works of art. Even the current discourse about adaptation got me very much interested and engaged.
I think my general view of life was affected by Tolkien’s works (among some others), and you can’t approach something the exact same way twice. Hard to say what is the difference exactly each time, but I think the last big difference came to me after reading Tolkien’s lectures on Beowulf. Those made me realize that if he analyzes things with such amazing depth, and yet a clear view of the whole picture – you can’t really over-do it with analysis of his works.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I do recommend it, mainly because I think (especially after that last lecture I gave, concerning its artistic achievements and specifically the subject of sanctification) that it can have a very good effect on people. Enrich their lives at the very least (while other works may do the opposite in some cases).
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