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 Nico 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 Nico Berger’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
When I was freshly 15 and the second Lord of the Rings film had just been released, my father was in the living room rewatching the first one. I had seen previews for it but I misinterpreted it as a scary film, and I avoided those like the plague! But I was curious. It looked so beautiful, the elves in their glowing gowns and the characters looked medieval and magical. I loved that kind of thing, usually. I watched a few scenes, understanding nearly nothing, my dad giving a vague explanation since he hadn’t read the books, and when it was over I put the Blockbuster VHS back in. I watched it maybe 4 times in two days. I had so many questions – what is the Ring, how exactly does it have power, and most importantly, what happens next?
I looked into it, and the internet told me to read The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings. I found The Hobbit on my bookshelf at home and slogged through it, not really feeling compelled by the story, and then bought the trilogy. We left for Christmas vacation then, and bored in the Bahamas with my family (I’m not a beach person), I devoured the three books in 4 days. When I finished The Return of the King, it was already dark and I was supposed to be asleep. I didn’t know how it all ended. Needless to say, it’s so deeply heartbreaking and beautiful I hugged the book tightly and cried myself to sleep. When I got back home, I went to see The Two Towers, and got all the Tolkien books I could get my hands on. It’s been 15 years and I still reread and rewatch it all regularly.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
So many things come to mind; small things that together are powerful. The depth of the languages Tolkien created (funny enough I am a Norwegian speaker via my mother, so I was able to grasp some of the Elvish structure already), the deep (and sometimes even boring!) history of this world, and the occasional sad endings or unfinished stories make for such a realistic world. It was exactly what I needed as a teenager to escape. It felt as real and full as this world.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Kind of corny but that night I mentioned before: the story was so exquisitely sad, I felt as if I’d been stabbed. I was only 15, this felt like my first real heartbreak. All I could think was Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf – I don’t want you to die. You made it through! I don’t want you to die. As soon as I’d read “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.,” I hugged the book and sobbed. I’ve been a voracious reader since I was little, but no book had ever affected me like that. So it’s painful, my fondest experience, but by far the most potent book experience I’ll ever have.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Yes! I’m 30 now, a linguist of all things, and I’ve studied Elvish and the Dwarvish runes quite a bit. I am essentially constantly in the middle of rereading the 17 Tolkien books I have on my shelf, which I either read intensely or passively between the other novels that come my way. I consider watching the films a nearly ritualistic experience, where I have to be in just the right mood and have done all the preparations before (freshly rereading the book on which the film is based). I spend more time now learning about Tolkien and his other nonfiction writings, whereas when I was a child the appeal was less academic and more about the sensation that it was all real. It’s gone from escapism to appreciation for me.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
To anyone and everyone. I really do believe reading is so very important, and exercising one’s imagination, and Tolkien’s work is challenging. It’s not written as accessibly as Harry Potter. I could write that fanfiction all day, it’s easy – but Tolkien writes like a learned scribe from a time long since past and it’s nearly impossible to mimic. Reading his writing style takes conscious thought to understand sentences you’d never hear in ordinary life, such as “Thy account has wrought in me much joy, for I am fain to learn of her fate.” Ok, I just made that up, but you know what I mean! Aside from the cognitive benefits of reading Tolkien, it’s just such a treasure trove. For example I also love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – but that’s it. It’s just those 3.5 books. There’s not a lot more to dig into this world, whereas with Tolkien there is a near-endless supply of drafts, stories, and history to explore. Disclaimer: rumor has it Pullman is writing again, so hopefully I’ll be wrong soon. Also if someone could fall in love with these characters as deeply as I did, it’s worth it. Everyone deserves that feeling of magic.