Miles S’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (38)

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 reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Miles and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Miles S‘s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was first introduced to The Lord of the Rings when I was nine years old. I had been reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and had enjoyed it immensely. My father had a Brilliantine paperback edition of The Fellowship of the Ring (with the wonderful Barbara Remington cover art) and gave it to me, telling me, “there is a very scary part where they make a journey underground and encounter a dreadful spirit of the underworld!” I was so intrigued that I began to read it almost immediately and was soon completely engrossed in the story. Of course, The Bridge of Khazad-dum had me enthralled and I was devastated when Gandalf the Grey fell into darkness.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

It really is difficult for me to define what I feel is my favorite part of Tolkien’s work. I was absolutely enthralled with Middle-earth after my first (of many) readings of The Lord of the Rings, and that was not diminished by subsequent, multiple readings of The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. If anything I would have to say that perhaps those three works are my favorites of the Tolkien catalogue. I have not been quite as big a fan of most of his posthumously published material (with the exception of The Silmarillion of course which he was working on prior to his death) because I am not sure whether Professor Tolkien would have wanted this material published.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

One of my fondest experiences associated with Tolkien’s work is perhaps my first reading of The Silmarillion when I was 16 years of age. I had pre-ordered my copy from the local bookstore and taken the bus to pick it up the day it arrived. At first I found the narrative odd and disjointed, but being a lover of Tolkien and possessing the dogged determination that comes with young adulthood, I soldiered on and very quickly fell under the spell of the incredibly vast and complex universe that Professor Tolkien wove around me.  I found the history of the Elves to be incredibly noble and tragic, and the story of Feanor, the Silmarils and the flight of the Noldor to Middle Earth reminded me of the legends and myths I had read in books on ancient Greek/Roman and Norse mythology. I keenly remember reading of the Dagor Bragollach and the madness of Fingolfin; of his riding forth alone to Angband to challenge Morgoth to single combat. When I read the line “and Morgoth came” the hairs rose on the back of my neck and a shock of fearful anticipation coursed through me like an electric current. There have been very few times, before or since when the written word has been able to elicit that kind of a response in me.

Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Of course my approach to Tolkien’s work has changed over time. After multiple readings of his work, and vastly more experience gained through reading the works of other authors, my appreciation of Tolkien has been modified and placed in the context of a greater appreciation of literature in general.

Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

As for recommending Tolkien, I have been doing so ever since I first experienced his work. I think part of the genius of Tolkien’s work is that it is approachable by readers of any calibre. One only has to look at the popularity of the very simplistic, commercial movie versions of his work to see how it can appeal across a large demographic.


 

LotRFI Pt.39–Sam’s “Meta” Moments

One of the inspirational aspects of Tolkien’s work which really stuck with me in my first reading was Sam’s perceptive moments where he talks about how the adventure he is in is like the adventure he learned as a child. A great example of this tendency occurs of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol Chapter. Sam recounts part of the tale of Beren and Luthien and then falls into reflection, saying:

‘But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it…and why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve goy – you ‘ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’ (TT, IV, viii, 712)

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Image copyright Ulla Thynell

Then Frodo and Sam talk about the nature of stories and the part that characters play in them. This was important to me because it gave me a connection to the characters I was reading about. I wanted to believe that these stories were real, that they mattered. This vision of how a story could impact the life of the listener/reader was very inspiring to me. I think that, had it not been for the several moments like this in TT and RK, perhaps LotR would not have been as impactful on me. Not only did these passages make this story more meaningful, they made reading as an activity more important. I really internalized these observations a lot in my first reading.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I believe we will start RK with a visit to Minas Tirith. That seems fitting!

What Do You Think?

What is your impression of these moments with Sam?
Have these episodes ever impacted your reading outside of Tolkien?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Wesley Schantz’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (37)

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 reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Wesley and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Wesley Schantz’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

As a kid, I read an illustrated Hobbit with pictures from the Rankin-Bass movie. I think it was my dad’s. I would read and look at the pictures about equally. Then in middle school I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in plain paperback editions at least a couple of times through, before the Peter Jackson movies came out.

2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

The sense of an individual crafting something which also aspires to be universal, a mythic whole, and that we’re being invited to imaginatively participate in the endeavor.

3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Reading The Hobbit for the first time at summer camp, when Bilbo comes to Gollum’s lake, to the spiders in Mirkwood, to Smaug, and finally makes it back home again.

4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Listening to The Tolkien Professor courses on The Silmarillion, Leaf by Niggle, Smith, etc. and studying Tolkien’s scholarly work, starting with the two big essays and his translations, I’ve become interested in his cultural impact, beyond just his stories.

5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

I highly recommend it. A great way for new readers to encounter him is in the company of Narnia, Harry Potter, and A Wrinkle in Time, through Signum Academy’s summer camps!


For more from Wesley Schantz, check out his blog!

LotRFI Pt.38–Gollum

I have already indicated two things which greatly impact the way that I viewed Sméagol in my initial reading. First, I was very concrete in my thinking of good and bad at the time (hence my largely negative opinion of Boromir). Second, I was very mistrustful in general. These two attributes conspired to make me dislike Gollum from the moment I knew he would be in this story. He had, after all, betrayed sweet Bilbo in H and was as treacherous as any other character.

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Image copyright Alan Lee

This utter dislike for Gollum continued pretty much undaunted until the trio reaches Ithilien. In this phase of the adventure, I started to think of Gollum more as a pet than an enemy. This may not make me seem like the most gracious child, but his overly-expressive gesticulations and extreme attitude shifts reminded me of a dog. Gollum became a character who could amuse me, but he still had to be watched very carefully because he might try to get away with something at any moment.

I did not really understand that Gollum was pitiable until the Stairs. At one point the narrator makes more explicit here what Gandalf hinted at earlier in FR. The narrator describes Gollum coming back to find the hobbits sleeping and

‘slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old staved pitiable thing’ (TT, IV, viii, 714).

I need to clarify here that I did not see Gollum as regretful here. For all I knew, Gollum was reaching to see if Frodo was asleep enough for him to steal the Ring. What I did understand, though, was that others could pity him even if his motivations or intentions were bad. This passage did not show regret in Gollum, but the magnanimity that thee hobbits were capable of. I did not arrive at an understanding of Gollum’s motivations until a few years later in my reading experience.

Gollum to me was complicated in the way that he could be viewed by others, but not complicated in his own character. While I understood some of his internal tension, Tolkien was too overt with Gollum for me to ignore it, it registered as uncertainty to me and not real conflict.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Sam gets meta, then onward to RK​!

What Do You Think?

What was your first interpretation of Gollum?
Did you ever take true pity on him?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Abner de Souza’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (36)

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 reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Abner and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Abner de Souza’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Though familiar with Tolkien’s name, being a C.S Lewis’s reader, it was all because of the LOTR movies. Which I just came to watch in the year of the second part of The Hobbit trilogy , for, until then I only had seen the scene of the Hobbits in Fangorn, which in my memories were totally different. Well, though it was a bad quality, illegal copy, it was enough to take me out of my world and so I became, or, more accurately, I found out I was thirsty for that fantastic beauty I found in Middle-earth. So, by the time of the third part of The Hobbit, I’d already read the four books and considered myself his biggest fan, and abandoned, because I had no idea by the time, that The Silmarilion existed.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

If you asked a book, I would say with no doubt The Silmarilion. Because of it’s majestic beauty, incomparable. But, the “part” of his work I can’t say. Maybe the linguistic, that, like the gift of the elves, it was his magic of writing, of making men have dreams of that intangible fairness. Like only the words he created could give you the description of what it means without spoil.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

That is something I discovered suddenly. Walking to school, back in those days I was reading The Lord of The Rings, I caught myself gazing upon the trees. In a moment I just knew that I was changed forever by a book I was reading. I can still see the tree, the street I was in, like I’m right in front of it. This moment is in my mind and heart. Unremovable.

Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Never. Since I read The Lord of The Rings, to read a new work, to watch or to listen to an interview or record he made, or anything related to him, it’s like a ceremony for me. I have the highest respect for all of his legacy and so I care about not giving it the recognition of it’s worth. By now, I’ve read or listened to a lot by Tolkien and about Tolkien, though I have this way that might seem strange. I do not consume the work of someone I like and that has already passed in the same way I do for the work of the living. So I go slow, as slow as I can. It’s reasonable actually. For I fear the day I will know all that there is to be known. But for Tolkien, being who he is, it’s different. I always make sure to have something new to pass Christmas day or my birthday.

Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

If I would? What can a man do in the name of love if not share all that is good?


If you want more of Abner’s thoughts on Tolkien and other topics, you can find him on Twitter!

The Tolkien Birthday Toast–A Reflection on Reflection

For a few years now, I have followed the tradition of the Tolkien Birthday Toast that I was first introduced to through the Tolkien Society.

You can visit the Tolkien Society’s page explaining the toast for more information or for the basic procedures.

Today I wanted to take a moment to laud the simple traditions that fandom inspires. It is easy to look at something like the Tolkien Birthday Toast from the outside and assume it is nothing more than an exercise performed by a group of over-enthusiastic nerds.

I think there is something a bit more, though.

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At this point, the toast is a shared, communal tradition that lends itself to something that our everyday lives increasingly push out: reflection.

I call it a communal experience because, whether one celebrates it alone or in the company of others, there is an understanding that this act is something shared. Different fans and groups of fans across the world will do this same act, and participating in something that large gives a sense of unity and belonging.

It is more than that, though. This sense of community is nice, but what is the community about? Why does it matter?

Having the toast focus on the author rather than a specific text or event makes this activity a very special kind of reflection. It is a moment to pause and appreciate the achievements of an author and the life he lived. Tolkien was not a writer by trade, he was an academic. While many people were drawn to him because of his creative endeavors, those are only part of Tolkien’s influence. The toast allows people with varying degrees and experiences with Tolkien and his work to participate, and this is important!

This is the point that intersects the most with my interests as a researcher into the reception of Tolkien’s writings: The Toast invariably calls participants to reflect on the ways that Tolkien’s writings have produced meaning in their lives.

Often, participants will share stories of how they first read Tolkien or how Tolkien changed the way they saw the world. These stories are the kind of reflection that are increasingly pushed aside in a fast-paced culture.

A tradition that practices taking a moment and recalling these stories of connection and inspiration is well worth participating in! So tonight, at 9pm, consider raising a glass to The Professor!

LotRFI Pt.37–Of Shelob

I am, and have been since I can remember, afraid of spiders. Therefore, Tolkien’s giant monster guarding the back entrance to Mordor was the worst of all possibilities. This horrid creature still makes my hair stand on end when I think about it. I remember that my first read of the passage was very difficult because I kept feeling a strong desire to put the book down to get a reprieve from the creepy thing.

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Image copyright John Howe

This giant spider felt to me like something taken straight from my nightmares and placed as an obstacle for Frodo and Sam. I could not imagine a worse foe to come across. Since it had not been too long since I read H, I anticipated that the creature was a spider early. I knew for certain by the time Frodo held up Galadriel’s gift and revealed ‘two great clusters of many-windowed eyes’ (TT, IV, ix, 720), but I believe I suspected as early as the ‘venomous hiss’ (TT, IV, ix, 719). As I read the struggle between this ancient beastie and the protagonists, I frequently experienced shivers down my spine.

When Shelob stabs Frodo with her stinger, I did not, could not, believe that he was dead. Sam’s courage in this moment was infections, and I remember vividly cheering him on to vanquish the awful creature. I was disappointed when the despicable thing was able to retreat. Again, I did not really believe that Frodo was dead. I remembered Frodo’s tendency to receive a stab wound in battle and fall, as if he were dead, only to revive a minute or two later: look no further than Weathertop and the Chamber of Mazarbul. It was Sam’s lamentation that started to make me consider that this time was different.

Ultimately, when Sam took the Ring from Frodo and claimed the quest as his own, I truly believed that Frodo was dead. I was elated, then, at the reveal of the poison that mocks death and the realization that Frodo was not dead! I also remember my response to the final line of TT.

‘Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy’ (TT, IV, x, 742).

I exclaimed aloud: ‘Wait…What?’ and immediately picked up the next volume.

Where Do We Go From Here?​

Gollum then Sam’s ruminations.

What Do You Think?

Was Shelob the worst creature battle for you as well?
What did you make of Sam’s courage and Frodo’s death?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Don Standing’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (35)

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 reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Don and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Don Standing’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Around the time I was starting high school, I was reading a fair bit of Conan and Sword and Sorcery stuff. I remember seeing on the cover of many books variations of “Not since Lord of the Rings…”. And so, like water circling a drain, I bought my first copy of Fellowship of the Ring. That was about 50 years ago.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Favourite part? If that means favourite work, then The Silmarillion then Smith of Wootton Major. If that means favourite part of Lord of the Rings, then Book I. If that means favourite aspect of the writing, then tone. If that means favourite character, then Middle-earth

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I just listened to an interview with author Julian Barnes who said, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” This resonates with me and I think that may be my answer. The Silmarillion, as the blurb on my edition says, “approaches the mythic”. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean, but for me there is a holiness to it, an exaltation. It is a paean to wonder and awe – things I miss in this world.

On another level, introducing my son to Tolkien: I have an illustrated copy of The Hobbit and I would retell the story using the illustrations when he could barely talk. He called Thorin and Company “dorfs” and, in the double page spread illustration of the Battle of Five Armies would name the orcs: always the last one named was “Jibby”. Fond memories.

On another level, rediscovering and re-experiencing the works through Signum University, the Tolkien Professor, and The Prancing Pony podcast.

Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

I wouldn’t say “approach” particularly. I used to read Lord of the Rings yearly, but haven’t in many years now. I find that I have become rather Smeagol-ish in that I am very interested in the beginnings of things: word origins, pre-history, etc. As I write this, I see that that is probably very Tolkien too. Ironic that the character that, in some ways, was like the author, becomes Gollum.

Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

Probably not, although I certainly have. Most people who would be interested already have read it.

As mentioned above, I am interested in beginnings. I have oftentimes seen a comedy routine on tv that is the ancestor of some original bit from the 50s (for example). When I see the original, I am often disappointed by how bland it is. I wonder if that would be the same for Tolkien. Because he has virtually taken over the world and is everywhere, new readers (those used to Game of Thrones for example, or Harry Potter) may not be as appreciative as we who read it when the world was young.

LotRFI Pt.36–Concerning Faramir

Most people that I have talked to see Faramir as an unblemished ray of hope in his interactions with Frodo and Sam. I, however was not very optimistic when the hobbits met Faramir. He and his men sneak up on the hobbits, ambush them, and abduct them, taking them to a secret cave. To me, these were not the actions of an ally, they were the actions of an enemy. The interview between Faramir and Frodo in the cave heightened my suspicions of Faramir before it alleviated them.

 

The way that Faramir talks to Frodo in their first discussion conveyed mistrust and ultimately foreshadowed conflict to me. It was frequently confrontational and on the verge of being rude. I applauded Sam when he interjected, claiming that

‘He has no right to talk to you so’ (TT, IV, V, 665).

 

faramir
Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Sam’s perspective closely mirrored my own here. The fact that Faramir checks his bravery and then reveals that he is Boromir’s brother seemed ominous to me. I thought that certainly the corruption which drove Boromir to desire the Ring (remember, I though Boromir a ‘fallen’ man until his death redeemed him) would certainly also claim someone so closely related. This news was foreboding.

In their second, more private conversation, Faramir began to win me over with his fair words. He seemed to have a good sense of the struggles in the world, he lamented the loss of Gandalf, and he showed true compassion for his brother, even though he admitted his brother’s pride and arrogance. Once again, Sam encapsulates my perspective on Faramir:

‘He may be all right…and then me may not. Fair speech may hide a foul heart’ (TT, IV, v, 675).

I have to say that, throughout their encounter with Faramir, I held with Sam’s opinions very much Indeed, I would say that I identified with Sam the most in this encounter with one exception: when he lets slip the fact that the Ring is with them and is Isildur’s bane.

Faramir’s monologue which follows this revelation felt the same as Galadriel’s to me in my first reading. He says:

‘So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way — to me! And here in the wild I have you; two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha!’ (TT, IV, v, 680-1)

Just like with Galadriel’s monologue, I thought that this speech was the Ring influencing Faramir. He was tempted to take the Ring and use it for his own, to complete the quest of his fallen Brother. When he holds true to his earlier promise to leave the Ring with Frodo, I thought he had managed to overcome his temptation, just as Galadriel had. In all, this interaction was quite an emotional journey for me!

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the remainder of TT​, I want to talk about Shelob, Smeagol, and Sam’s Meta Moments.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to Faramir when you first met him?
When did you first trust Faramir?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

WelCZa’s Experience– Tolkien Experience Project (34)

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 reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to WelCZa and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to WelCZa‘s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Back at 1995(ish) I was playing local version of DnD and I loved it. And one of my friends/schoolmates I was playing it with told me, that I should read Hobbit and that DnD is based on it. So first I read borrowed Hobbit and next I bought it as well as the LotR and Silmarilion (I was around 15 so it wasn’t all at once).

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Definitely The Two Towers and its battle of Helms deep, where Gimli and Legolas start counting killed enemies and compete in it. IMO it’s one of the most hilarious and touchy part of the story if not “The most…” (even besides destroying of The Ring).

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Definitely Lord of the Rings online. An MMORPG based on, well, LotR. There is nothing more to say.

Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

When I was young, Tolkien’s work was bible to me. Now it is just awesome saga, besides others.

Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

Definitely. Why? Short answer: Why not? Longer answer: Tolkien was a genius storyteller who even invented at least two alphabets (elvish and dwarven) and at least basics of two languages.