André Santiago’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (157)

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 André Santiago’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My father is a big fan of Middle-earth so I’ve known the books since I was a child. He gave me The Hobbit when I was 9, though I didn’t manage to read through the first time. For LOTR, I knew the basic plot line and wanted to discover who destroyed the ring without reading the book (hated reading at that time), so one day I took the book, went to the last pages and spoiled myself (still hate me for that). One time at school, the teacher wanted us to bring a book to read before each class and I grabbed The Fellowship of the Ring as I was late, and was quickly drawn in (I was 13). For 2-3 years I only read and reread LOTR, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion.

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

I’d say my favourite part is the creation of the world, the first war against Melkor and the destruction of the Trees (even though I’m usually pretty bad at choosing favourites). These events give me a sense of awe so great that I’ve yet to encounter it elsewhere. An honourable mention is the encounter between the dwarves and Beorn. It is probably one of the most fun scenes I’ve read.

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

I love the connection that I have with my father over this world. I remember particularly playing “Battle for Middle-earth” with him a lot (losing most of the time), watching all of the movies that one time until I got an headache, and be able to make him get deeper in the world (I gave him Children of Hurin for Christmas)

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

Well, yes and no. It has definitely changed since the times when I exclusively read LOTR again and again. I took a break and haven’t read LOTR for 2 or 3 years now, as I’m more interested in the events prior to the main story (particularly the first age). Now the way I view the world hasn’t particularly changed, only got more deep as my knowledge of all that surrounds Middle-earth got deeper.

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

Definitely! The thing is that my friends either are already familiar with the books or don’t like to read. But most of them have at least watched (and enjoyed) the movies!

James Roberts’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (156)

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 James Roberts’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was introduced to Lord of the Rings, the movies, as a child. The moment they were out of theaters, my parents brought home the DVDs, and little 4 or 5 year old me was hooked.

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

My favorite part of Tolkien’s work definitely has to be the books for Lord of the Rings and Hobbit. There has always been a copy of them in my home, even when I moved out on my own.

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

Playing the Lord of the Rings games. From the Two Towers game on the GameCube, to War in the North, to the Lego games, and to LOTR: Online. Being able to interact with the world just draws me in.

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

As I grew older, I’ve been able to experience more and more of Tolkien. When I was a very young kid, I just had the movies. Then the games, then the books. But now that I’m an adult, I’ve branched out past Middle-Earth. I’ve been able to get an appreciation for his writing, his world building, and the general feel of the man that he once was.

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

I’ll recommend Tolkien to my dying breath. No matter what form of media one wants to partake, Tolkien can be found. He has created stories that span generational gaps, and will go down in history as a modern master of his field.

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TEP #30 – Jenny Dolfen

Our guest for this episode is a very well-respected artist in Tolkien circles: Jenny Dolfen!

Jenny has been a freelance illustrator since 2003, and has gained notoriety for her work inspired by Tolkien’s texts. She has won the Tolkien Society Award for Best Art three times, in 2014, 2018, and 2020!

In this interview, Sarah talks to Jenny about her experiences with Tolkien, painting or drawing inspired by his work, and how she interacts with fandom. We hope you enjoy it!

You can find more from Jenny at her website or on Instagram!

Links to audio of this interview are below!

Video of this interview is available exclusively to our patrons on Patreon! Subscribing at $5/month gets you access to video interviews, behind-the-scenes information, early releases, and other bonus content!

Subscribe to the podcast via:

Please consider supporting the Podcast on Patreon!

Comments or questions:

  • Visit us at Facebook or Twitter
  • Comment on this blog post
  • Send us an e-mail from the contact page
  • Email TolkienExperience (at) gmail (dot) com

Arthur H’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (155)

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 Arthur H’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

When I was 8 or 9 in the mid 60’s I came across a paperback book that one of my brothers had left lying around. The cover was neat, with an exploding volcano and a bunch of dudes flying around on what looked like dragons (in retrospect the original Ballantine paperback edition of Return of the King). So I opened it up and leafed through it and thought “Hmmm…this sounds neat…”Mount Doom.” So that was my introduction to Tolkien (which many would say explains a lot). I have vague memories of reading “The Riders of Rohan” and Eomer saying “we’re not like the Black riders; we’re good guys.”

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

If by favorite part you mean favorite passage, I would have to say the ending of “Leaf by Niggle.” If by favorite part you mean my favorite thing I get out of it it would be the complexity of the world building.

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

The first time I read The Silmarillioin, which was published for the first time more than 10 years after I read LOTR for the first time. Gondolin? Orome the Great? The Valar? All those years we speculated and filled in the gaps (no one had invented the phrase “fanfic” yet) and suddenly to have all the backstory we had been yearning for was an incredible experience. I feel some sadness for those younger than me who never had the opportunity to say “OMG this is NEW TOLKIEN!!!!!”

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

Oh yes. I used to be very fact-based and serious which may surprise many who have come to know me. I have come to the point where I try to look for what’s fun, by which I mean look at it seriously and then say “an argument could be made that Goldberry is really Melkor” or “you know, if Arwen looks so much like Luthien why doesn’t she go to Mordor and say ‘hey bud, remember me? I don’t need the dog to take you down this time. Now scram!’ because that’s so much better than the Eagles dropping the ring into Orodruin at the end of Chapter 2 and wrapping up the book in record time.”

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

I always recommend his works for anyone who is looking for an interesting read (I do tell them to not sweat all the names) especially if I ask them if they are familiar with LOTR and they say “yes, I loved those movies.” I am not sure of any circumstances where I would not recommend this if someone asked me what would be a good thing to read (although I would caveat a lot to leave what they have heard or seen from Jackson movies or D&D because preconceptions can be a big problem). My frequent comment to people who tell me “Lord of the Rings? I mean to get around to watching that someday” is that “It’s not something you watch, it’s something you READ.”

Nate Gordon’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (154)

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 Nate Gordon’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I think it was 2nd or 3rd grade (late 70’s) when my parents turned the channel to the Rankin-Bass Hobbit movie’s TV airing. A few days later, I was in the school library, and a friend said he would check out the book version of it. My reaction was, “There’s a book?” it all followed from that.

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

The gradual elevation in the language throughout LOTR – from the informal Hobbit language in the opening chapters to the high speech of Gondor.

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

A long road trip when I listened to the audiobook FOTR – particularly the joy of hearing Rob Inglis sing the first lines of Tom Bombadil.

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

I look more now to the connections and the subtle aspects hidden behind the main story arcs. Little details, such as a recent realization that the “Lords of the West” who sent the messenger Eagle to Gondor was not a reference to Aragorn or Gandalf.

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

Why wouldn’t I? It would never occur to me not to.


You can see more from Nate Gordon on his Instagram!

TEP #29 – Willie ‘Knewbettadobetta’ Jenkins

Our guest this week is a viral sensation on TikTok and has recently made the move to YouTube: Willie Jenkins!

Willie Jenkins is a super fan of Tolkien! He also has a magnetic personality and a desire to teach. These things have combined to make him a hit as he puts together short videos that summarize different characters or events from Tolkien’s work. With over 23,000 subscribers on TikTok and 3,000 subscribers on YouTube, he is known as Knewbettadobetta on both platforms, Willie is doing an excellent job making Tolkien’s work more approachable and accessible! I was really pleased to have the opportunity to interview him for this episode!

Willie did have a request from us: to help him get a better camera for his channel. If you can contribute, you can donate using Cashapp. His user name is $WillieJenkins.

Links to audio of this interview are below!

Video of this interview is available exclusively to our patrons on Patreon! Subscribing at $5/month gets you access to video interviews, behind-the-scenes information, early releases, and other bonus content!

Subscribe to the podcast via:

Please consider supporting the Podcast on Patreon!

Comments or questions:

  • Visit us at Facebook or Twitter
  • Comment on this blog post
  • Send us an e-mail from the contact page
  • Email TolkienExperience (at) gmail (dot) com

Dimitra Fimi: A Scholar for our Time

Fair warning: In this post, I make a case that no one has asked me to make and which is full of bias because she was my PhD supervisor.


With Sunday’s announcement that Dr. Dimitra Fimi received the 2021 Tolkien Society Award for Outstanding Contribution, I thought I would take this opportunity to write a post about her.

I want to do a thought-experiment. I have nothing to do with deciding who gets the awards, but I want to set up a scenario in which I would make the case for Fimi to receive the award: What accolades would I highlight, and what would I include in building the case?

I think the first step is to acknowledge that she has edited Tolkien’s own work. She and Andrew Higgins co-edited Tolkien’s A Secret Vice, which they greatly expanded with vital context (including situating the work more thoroughly in Tolkien’s modern context and determining where the speech was originally given). This puts Fimi in a class of scholars that is already pretty exclusive, among others who have edited Tolkien like Verlyn Flieger, Christina Scull, Wayne G. Hammond, and Christopher Tolkien (who have all won the Outstanding Contribution Award in the past).

Next, I think it is important to consider Fimi’s own original scholarship. While I could write a lot here about her various articles and chapters, for brevity’s sake I will focus on one of her monographs. Her book Tolkien, Race and Cultural History is groundbreaking and revolutionary. It examines aspects of Tolkien’s work that had not been dealt with in this depth before and it has (and should continue to) change the way scholars write about Tolkien. I am not alone in considering it an essential piece of Tolkien criticism. The book won the 2010 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies.

Apart from her own scholarship, which I have already established as of the highest quality, Fimi has also been very active in academia as an organizer, mentor, and supervisor. She currently serves as the co-directory of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow, where she oversees programming about all aspects of fantasy literature. This includes hosting an annual conference on Fantasy, supervising PhD and MA candidates, and teaching courses about Tolkien, fantasy, and children’s literature regularly. This means that Fimi has had a personal influence on those entering the field of Tolkien scholarship that is almost as significant as that of her scholarship.

Finally, I think it is worth noting that Fimi is one of the most collegial and responsive scholars in the field today. She is constantly advising and giving feedback on projects by other scholars to help them improve their work. She sits on the editorial review boards of The Journal of Tolkien Research, Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, and the Literary Encyclopedia, as well as the advisory board for Walking Tree Publishers.

In sum, Fimi is the type of scholar that other scholars would do well to emulate. She has already had a profound impact on the field of Tolkien Studies, and I am sure that we will continue to see brilliant scholarship and leadership from her in the future.

This is very far from a complete catalogue of the multitude of publications, appearances, and lectures that Fimi has presented. It is not intended to be exhaustive; instead, the hope was to put together a succinct case for the award, and I hope I have done the thought experiment justice, I know this does not do justice to Fimi’s career.

In my view, there isn’t anyone more deserving of this award.

My earnest congratulations to her on a well-deserved recognition!


If you want to know more about how Fimi first encountered Tolkien’s work, she was our first guest on the Tolkien Experience Podcast!

You can see all of the winners for the 2021 Tolkien Society Awards on the Tolkien Society website.


On a personal note, I am still dumbfounded that Dimitra agreed to be my PhD supervisor, and it was a privilege to work with her. I know that this post has far too much bias to be credible, but the facts are there for everyone to examine.

Hannah’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (153)

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 Hannah’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My dad read The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story during my childhood

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

For sentimental reasons I love The Hobbit, but I think a lot of my favorite writing is in LotR. Everything there is so rich, multilayered, and well-considered. I like how he can deal with really dark and serious subjects but also have a jolly time without being blasè about the hard stuff.

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

I taught literature, for a season, in Northern Iraq. I was teaching a group of 9th graders LotR around the same time that ISIS was growing in power and heading toward the area I was teaching in. Almost all of my students were Muslim and struggling with how they should react to other Muslims doing things that were so horrible in the name of their shared beliefs.

We were reading through the section where Gandalf is talking with Saruman about what they should do in response to Sauron’s rise to power. Saruman argues that they, being good, should join Sauron in order to influence him away from doing great evil, thus “lessening” the evil that he is inevitably going to do. Gandalf argues that they should stand against Sauron because that is what True Good would do. We had a long and lively class discussion about this and how it related to what they were dealing with in their real lives. It was good for them to see Gandalf disagree and even go against what the wisest and most knowledgeable of his order thought they should do. They felt empowered to be guided by their own moral compass rather than by what strong outside forces suggested.

I loved that Tolkien wrote something so powerful without knowing how far-reaching its messages would go. He wrote it with love and care because he loved and cared about it, not because he wanted to change the world. And yet he did. His writings have changed the world. I’ve seen it.

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

Absolutley! I went from reading for fun, to reading to teach (i.e. doing lots of research into mythology, learning about Tolkien himself, actively seeking out themes) and now I am re-reading them, slowly, for the love of it.

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

I do, frequently, but not to everyone. I don’t recommend it to people who are not interested in fantasy or taking on a long reading project. I might suggest The Hobbit or one of his shorter retellings, but his style is not for everyone. And that’s okay!

Tolkien Experience Podcast wins 2021 Tolkien Society Award for Best Online Content

Hello friends!

I wanted to take a moment and tell any of you who have not already heard that the Tolkien Experience Podcast has won the 2021 Tolkien Society Award for Best Online Content!

Sara Brown, Sarah Westvik and I are truly honored to receive this award and we are so thankful to the Tolkien Society and its members for their support of our podcast.

I wanted to thank my co-hosts Sara and Sarah for their hard work to make the show as excellent as it is, I could not do it without them! I also want to thank our supporters on Patreon who really stepped up earlier this year when we needed help to keep the show going! Without them, the show would have already ended, so they have literally made it possible for us to keep producing the podcast!

I also wanted to say that we were up against some pretty awesome competition, and that the Alliance of Arda, the Tolkien Art Index, TolkienBooks.us and the Music of Middle Earth podcast are all excellent, and you should check them out!

I also want to thank you, our readers for all of the support you have given me throughout the years, even before the podcast started.

I started the Tolkien Experience Project because I wanted to make a space for everyone to share their personal history with Tolkien’s work and its adaptations. I never dreamed it would become such a wonderful catalogue of fan experiences, or that people would genuinely want to hear a podcast about it! It was my early readers who told me that they wanted a podcast, and I am glad that I had the means to respond to that desire!

If you are reading this, thank you! Even if you don’t listen to the podcast and only read the text project, at this point the two enable each other to exist. We could not have built the one without the other, and we are so grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from each of you!

Finally, I wanted to say: Tolkien Experience is open for EVERYONE! I still hear people say things like “I don’t think my experience is interesting” or “My experience isn’t important”. And I want to take this opportunity to say that those thoughts are not true!

Your experience is wonderful, no matter what shape it takes! If you have read this far into the post, I am guessing that Tolkien has played at least some small part in your life. If so, then your experience of the work has probably helped to make you who you are, and that is a valuable, perhaps even miraculous, thing! If you haven’t shared your experience in the Project, I would love to hear it! I enjoy nothing more than email from people who want to talk Tolkien! So feel free to use my contact page at any time to send me a note!

You can go here to see all of the winners and nominees for this year’s awards!

Doug Hagler’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (152)

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 Doug Hagler’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

There was a passage from The Hobbit in my reading textbook in Middle School (the book also introduced me to A Wizard of Earthsea). I went to the library looking for the book, and found The Two Towers by the same author. I took that home and read it loved it, but was confused because so many characters were introduced without any explanation. Then I realized it was the second book in a trilogy written after The Hobbit. But by then I was already hooked.

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

The depth. Just a brief example – learning that when Bilbo comes home to an auction of his possessions, it is because Tolkien was discussing with other scholars whether the Old English word that is the source of “auction” in English means something like an auction, or if it rather means ‘a mess.’ And so Tolkien ended his story with an auction that was also a mess. Or how the ents march because Tolkien was deeply disappointed with Shakespeare’s ‘march of the trees’, or the multiple layers of archaism in the Council of Elrond and how they are masterfully and intentionally used. Because of his scholarly background, Tolkien had a mastery of the English language, rather than the conventions of fiction, and it shows in so many hidden but extraordinary ways.

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

Hunkering down to read The Fellowship of the Ring on a Friday, not able to sleep because of the Weathertop scenes that night, then reading through the rest of Saturday and moving on to the full trilogy that weekend. My parents occasionally coming in to ask whether I’d like food.

Also, the experience of seeing The Fellowship of the Ring on opening night. Still by far the most powerful experience I’ve had in a movie theater.

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

Definitely. Every time I dig deeper, there is more there. It’s why I think he succeeded in his goal to create a new mythology.

I’ve also changed in my approach, in that I’ve come to understand the problems in his work and the worldview it sometimes represents. I now love it critically, where I used to love it uncritically, but I still love it.

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

Absolutely. I recommend Tolkien’s work to everyone, even though I know his work isn’t necessarily for everyone. But for someone who is interested in a modern mythology for northern Europe, as well as a masterpiece of idiosyncratic fiction that was the labor of love of a scholar’s lifetime, there isn’t even a close second to Tolkien. 


You can read more from Doug Hagler on Twitter or his blog!