TEP #36 — Joel Merriner

This week’s episode is with a scholar whose interest is art history makes for some fascinating insights about illustrations of Tolkien’s works: Joel Merriner.

Joel is an Associate Lecturer in Art History at the University of Plymouth. He is finishing his PhD which examines the illustrations of Tolkien’s work in central and eastern Europe. He presented some of his research at the 2021 Tolkien Society Seminar on diversity (video available on YouTube) and he recently published on the same topic in Foreign Policy We are delighted to have him as our guest!

Links to audio of this interview are below!

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Ulliowl’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (169)

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 Ulliowl’s responses:


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

The girl sitting next to me in homeroom was reading The Hobbit in 1963. Because I liked the cover, I bought it the next time I was at Borders.  I was immediately sucked into Tolkein’s world and over the next few months, bought The Lord of the Rings trilogy one book at a time.

In sophomore College English I wrote a research paper on the use of Elves in The Hobbit. I got a B+ on it.

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

The part where Pippin and Merry are waiting for the Ents decide their fates.

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

Reading it to my children and some of them being as excited and involved as I.

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

Yes, I no longer read the entire 4 books in a marathon of reading but pick and chose parts of them. Also, I have The Silmarillion and read parts of it.

Shortly after the Star Wars book “From a Certain Point of View” was released, I wrote about 4 short stories using the same format based on minor characters and their reactions or experiences.

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

Yes, I recommend it to be read by everyone before they watch the movies. Like most books made into movies, they tried to capture the essence of the story but fail in so many ways.


You can find Ulliowl on Twitter or their blog!

Michael Connery’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (168)

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 Michael Connery’s responses:


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

It’s been so long (25+ years, probably) that I don’t clearly recall. I was probably 11 – 12 years old and I was gifted the old Ballantine paperbacks, the ones from the 70s with Tolkien’s artwork on the covers. Like most people, I believe I read The Hobbit first and was very proud to remember all of the dwarves names. I also have a vague recollection of seeing Bakshi’s animated movies even younger than that, but wouldn’t say I was fully aware of what I was watching.

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

It’s changed over time. Throughout all of it, I would say that feeling of Anemoia — nostalgia for a place/time you’ve never been — has been the through line and a big part of what keeps me coming back. In terms of the work itself, it’s shifted throughout the years, from The Old Forest/Barrow Downs and Lorien to the Ride of the Rohirrim. Lately I’ve been more fond of the epic scope of The Silmarillion and the extended version of The Fall of Gondolin in particular.

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

Fondest might not be the right word. Shortly after college I worked a night-shift paralegal job at a big law firm. I’d work from 8pm – 8am every day, then come home and read The Silmarillion for a few hours before sleeping the day away and starting again. It was certainly an intense way to experience The Silmarillion for the first time, and reversing my sleep schedule added to the disorientation of it.

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

As I’ve grown older and done more than half a dozen read-throughs of the core works (if not more), I’ve grown more interested in the History of Middle-earth. Reading the drafts was illuminating, both in understanding Tolkien’s intent but also the sheer amount of work and change between some of the drafts. Now I’m starting to dive into Tolkien’s letters (starting with 131 before proceeding chronologically). I’ll probably do the Carpenter biography next.

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

I recommend it constantly to people, but one of my greatest joys in 2020 was reading it aloud to my nine year old son for the first time. We’ll see if he turns into a convert. My youngest is four and I’m looking forward to doing the same for him when he’s older.


You can find more from Michael Connery on Twitter!

Claude Drolet’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (167)

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 Claude Drolet’s responses:


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

It was in about 1980, when I was about 11 or 12, my aunt gave my older brother an Unwin 1966 edition boxed set. He devoured them. Sometime after that, summer 1981, I believe, my mother gave me a Dungeons and Dragons set and we tried to play. While the game did not stick, it did lead my brother re-read the series and brought it back to my attention, and I read The Hobbit.

Upon finishing The Hobbit I could not imagine reading anything else, as how could any protagonist replace Bilbo. It took me about another year to plunge into The Lord of the Rings. I was glad I did, as it opened up the world of high fantasy to me, a world I have enjoyed ever since.

I quickly read through The Silmarillion, then later purchased and devoured Unfinished Tales and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

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

For me it is the Merry/Pippin storylines that run through books 3 and 5, and then in the Scouring of the Shire. While Frodo and Sam are pivotal to the story, I empathized more with Merry and Pippin.

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

It is hard to say, as I have returned to his work at many stages in my life, but most recently I was able to watch the film trilogy with my 10 year old son and experience it again for the first time through his eyes. We watched the original theatrical releases, and while they were shorter than the extended ones, he still was surprised when each film finished, not noticing 3 hours had passed.

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

When I first read it, it was as a boy looking for adventure. As an adult I look at it for other aspects. The beauty of the language, the world building or the character development. I still enjoy the escapism, the immersion into the story, but I appreciate the more lofty aspects more as an adult. Each time I read the series, I find something new. Foreshadowing I did not pick up on, imagery that strikes me or irony that was lost on a middle school boy.

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

Always. I work in education, and I often find myself recommending books to young adults who are graduating out of Harry Potter. The Hobbit is the first choice, and that has led many to move into The Lord of the Rings.

Jelena Filipovic’s Experience– Tolkien Experience Project (166)

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 Jelena Filipovic’s responses:


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

Peter Jackson’s movies introduced me to Tolkien in 2001 as the The Fellowship of the Ring came out. I was 9 years old. I remember very vaguely first seeing an ad for the movie (I’m guessing that was part of the trailer) on TV and there being something sublime and ‘otherworldly’ about the feel of the movie, even in those few seconds which I had seen the ad. This had drawn my attention, making me curious and wanting to see the movie at the cinema.

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

My favourite part of Tolkien’s work has changed, and no doubt will continue to change, throughout the years. Something which I didn’t fully perceive when I watched the movies as a child, but which has grown on me in the last 8 years, ever since I read The Silmarillion, is the Christian spirit in and of Tolkien’s work – and in the man himself. For this reason my love for him and his works has grown and continues to grow. Tolkien’s work has expanded my perception of Christianity. If the Old Testament is a difficult and maybe even somewhat tedious read, The Silmarillion is like a reading guide or introduction to it; The Lord of the Rings is like the New Testament (and I stress the word ‘like’). Tolkien is one particular author who has made me a better Christian.

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

I cherished the moments I had watched the LOTR movies at the cinema throughout the years 2001-2004. I love the times I had read the LOTR books over the summer holidays (one book each summer) while also listening to Howard Shore’s musical score from the movies as I read. Sometimes I would also listen to other songs while reading any of Tolkien’s Middle-earth related texts and later these songs would always remind me of the atmosphere or scenes from that particular book. One memorable experience is when I was in Zakynthos (Greece) in summer 2016 and was reading The Lost Road and Other Writings. Whenever I was at the beach, looking out at the sea, walking along the shore, I thought of the story of Númenor and all its people and all that happened to it. On one particular day while I was still in Zakynthos it happened to be cloudy (just a little bit windy too) and I wrote in my journal, as I sat on the porch of the apartment where we were staying, how the moment I was experiencing then and there felt like it was the calm before a storm that the people of Númenor must have felt before its ultimate downfall.

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

Very much so. It certainly has deepened and, I dare say, “matured” (whatever mature means), but the love with which I approach it is the same.

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

I would definitely recommend the movies to everyone and anyone who hasn’t seen them, primarily LOTR and The Hobbit more or less. As for Tolkien’s written work, I would not recommend them to just anyone, especially if I know a person well, who is not into this genre, this style of writing, etc., or not into reading in general. The texts aren’t perhaps readerly for everybody.


You can find more from Jelena Filipovic on Twitter and Instagram!

TEP #35 — Erik Mueller-Harder

For this episode, I had the chance to talk to one of the nicest people in Tolkien scholarship: Erik Mueller-Harder!

Erik’s scholarly focus is on cartography and map-making. This interest has led him to closely investigate the first maps that Tolkien ever created for The Lord of the Rings, and his conference presentations on the subject are mesmerizing! In addition to this personal focus, Erik has also created a website (tolkienists.org) that has helpful resources for any Tolkien fan or researcher! This is where you will find the Tolkien Society Award nominated Tolkien Art Index, as well as his LRCitations, and a forum that is a hub for researchers and scholars!

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, an exclusive patron-only series, 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

Chris Stevens’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (165)

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 Chris Stevens’s responses:


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

It’s strange, I can remember almost exactly when a friend of mine recommended it. It’s a fairly vivid memory considering how long ago it was (1973). It was in Spanish class when I was a junior in high school (16 yrs old). I don’t think I’d read anything like it before. I typically read science fiction, mysteries, spy novels, although I did like stories of knights. I think I had read Ivanhoe not long before this. I started The Lord of the Rings but when I was partway through the prologue, I discovered there was an earlier book. As I like reading things in order, I went back to the bookstore to buy The Hobbit. I probably read the whole series 3-4 times per year through college. Although I don’t read them as frequently now, they are like old friends when I sit down to read them. Needless to say, they have made an impression on me.

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

Difficult question: The Fellowship is probably my favorite individual volume. However, I love The Silmarillion. A couple years before it came out, I had read something about this other book that Tolkien wrote, and I couldn’t find anything else about it. (no Wikipedia in those “elder days”) Therefore, I wrote to Houghton Mifflin for more information. They kindly responded telling me that his son was preparing it for publication, and it would be out in a couple of years. With all the anticipation, I bought it immediately when it appeared in a book club list. I was blown away.

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

In 2010 I stumbled on Corey Olsen’s Tolkien Professor recordings of his Tolkien class. I continued to follow his podcast and was honored to participate in his Silmarillion Seminar. The seminar met weekly for most of 2011 and I learned so much that I never previously considered, and it was great fun. Several of us attended Mythcon in Albuquerque that summer. It was so much fun meeting the “Silmarillionaires” face to face.

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

Very much so. Before I discovered Professor Olsen’s podcasts, I had read The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and the “Trilogy” * countless times. However, in retrospect my readings were quite superficial. Participating in the Silm. Seminar really opened my eyes to the depths of his work.

*(Don’t shoot me: I know it’s not a trilogy but that’s what everyone called it when I first started reading it. LOL)

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

Absolutely. I definitely recommend The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. They are great stories and Tolkien’s prose is first rate. They hold up for many, many readings. I get something out of them every time I read them even now.

As much as I love The Silmarillion, I only recommend it with a caution. You have to know what you’re getting into. If you are expecting something like the other published works, you will be disappointed. You also can’t expect to just read it once and “get it”. There is just too much there. I know I’m biased but reading through it along with the Silmarillion Seminar podcast, is a great way to get into it. I think Unfinished Tales should be read along with The Silmarillion.

The Histories should probably only be approached if you are REALLY, REALLY interested in the stories’ development. I have read a lot of the Histories but sometimes they can be difficult.  Volume 10 and 11 on the “later Silmarillion”  are my favorites.  I’ve yet to read volume 12,  The Peoples of Middle-earth.

Sean J’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (164)

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 Sean J’s responses:


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

I was probably around the age of 8 when I discovered the shiny box set of Tolkien books belonging to my mother on a shelf in our living room. The gold box with the cool symbols on it finally lured me into checking out the books inside, and I loved the hand drawn appearance of the covers. I remember being struck by the picture of the author on the backs- “This OLD man wrote these? I bet they’re boring.” How very little did I know… I still credit my mom for introducing me as it was her set of books.

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

After starting it as a teen, being confounded by the language, and then abandoning it until years later, The Silmarillion stands today as my favorite of all his works. In particular, the Ainulindalë stands out for me. I became enamoured of Roman, Greek, and in particular Norse mythology from a very young age and so was drawn to the creation myth Tolkien describes there and enjoyed reading and discovering how this world I’d come to love so deeply came to be. To this day I find the depth and breadth of Middle-earth provides me with unending joy. I find something new upon nearly every reading.

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

The way in which being immersed in his work led me towards other, similar interests. Falling in love with the Elves, the Numenorians, and dragons very much led me to discover Dungeons & Dragons, and roleplaying in general.

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

Somewhat though not completely. I’m still primarily a fan of his Middle-earth writings, but I’ve read through the entirety of The History of Middle-earth (at least the 12 volumes I’m aware of) edited by Christopher Tolkien, and as I grew older and wiser, I’ve been able to glean more detail and information as to the creation of his world. I’ve always been fascinated by the languages he created but haven’t spent any time officially involved in academic study of Tolkien.

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

The Hobbit is one of the books I will always recommend to any reader, of almost any age, and while I know Tolkien isn’t for everyone, I tend to leave that choice up to the reader. Tolkien’s work is one of the things I enjoy most in the world, so I’m always glad to share my love of it with anyone who asks.


You can find more from Sean J at his blog!

TEP #34 – Kristine Larsen

For this episode, Sara sat down with our good friend and ‘Tolkienian Astronomer’: Dr. Kristine Larsen!

Kristine is a professor of astronomy at Central Connecticut State University. Her research and teaching focus in the sometimes uncomfortable points of intersection between science and society, including: women in science,; misconceptions, conspiracy theories, and pseudoscience; the popularization of science for general audiences; and the uses/misuses of science in popular culture (including zombie films, science fiction TV series, and the fiction of Tolkien, Lewis, Gaiman and more). She has been writing on Tolkien since the early 2000s, and her paper Deconstructing Durin’s Day: Science, Scientific Fan Fiction, and the Fan-Scholar won the 2020 Tolkien Society Award for best article! We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did!

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, an exclusive patron-only series, 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

Courtney Petrucci’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (163)

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 Courtney Petrucci’s responses:


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

When The Fellowship of the Ring hit movie theaters, I was in fifth grade. My dad suggested we go see it, and based on the title alone I figured it would be boring (as only a ten year old would assume). I had no idea who Tolkien was and I had never heard of The Lord of the Rings, but I went to see the movie anyway.

I remember being entirely immersed in Middle-earth as Peter Jackson imagined it. I was completely in awe. I think it was then that I also learned not to judge a work by its title. I had always been an imaginative kid, but this film was really the catalyst for my lifelong love of fantasy fiction.

After the movie, my mom mentioned that it was based on a book, so I went on the hunt for a copy of Fellowship and buried myself in it. Seeing the film adaptation before reading the book definitely influenced my first reading of Tolkien, but I learned to see Tolkien’s Middle-earth in my own way over my many subsequent rereadings of The Lord of the Rings.

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

I’m torn between the epic battle scenes from the LOTR films and the beautiful images of the Shire from the text. I know these are two complete opposites, but both bring out an intense emotional reaction in me. Théoden’s Ride Now! speech gives me this huge adrenaline rush, and the Rohirrim facing certain death yet riding to meet it anyway makes my eyes water. It’s an equally powerful scene in the text. I remember seeing this battle scene in theaters and I can still feel those cries in my chest from the surround sound.

On the other hand, I find the Shire’s green, rolling hills and the slow, simple, way of life my ideal happy place. I enjoy retreating there while I daydream sometimes, and I can imagine myself living in a cozy hobbit hole, content to tend my garden and enjoy many meals and cups of tea with friends. To me, the Shire is the ideal place to make one’s home. Tolkien said he was “in fact a hobbit,” and maybe I would make a decent hobbit too.

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

I wrote my undergrad thesis on Gollum as an “unexpected hero”. The bare bones of my argument were that it was Gollum who succeeded where Frodo failed; Frodo decides to keep the Ring instead of throwing it into Mount Doom, and at the last moment Gollum bites Frodo’s finger off to get the Ring and then falls into the fire with it.

My senior year of college orbited around this thesis. It was more important to me than my student teaching, and definitely caused me more stress and anxiety. Now I look back on that year and remember my hours sitting in the library reading and highlighting all the work on Tolkien I could get my hands on, and I miss it. Despite all the sleep lost over drafting, editing, and meeting deadlines, I wish I could go back to those quiet hours that were entirely dedicated to learning about Tolkien and his work. I miss talking out my scattered thoughts and questions with my classmates and the excitement we shared when we had some small epiphany. My undergrad thesis is my favorite experience with Tolkien’s work so far.

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

I think my initial approach to any of Tolkien’s texts, especially his essays and letters, starts out as academic. I read with the purpose of answering a question. But when I reread his works once those questions are answered, I let myself slide into the world of Middle-earth to find the Escape he talks about in OFS [On Fairy-Stories]. Sometimes a new question will pop up while I revisit his stories, but for the most part I let myself relax and enjoy my subsequent readings.

I’ve always admired his artwork; I’ve never tried to interpret his art through a scholarly lens and I don’t think it’s supposed to be scrutinized or dissected the way his written work can be. I went to the Tolkien exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in 2019 to see his originals and how they developed, and I found such joy in simply being able to see them for myself.

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

Of course! I think anyone who loves reading should try out Tolkien’s work. His extensive world-building is perfect for readers who are looking for escape and immersion, and his use of languages and mythologies continue to provide scholars with academic material. I wouldn’t, however, recommend Tolkien to my students who don’t already like to read. Since most of Tolkien’s work, especially LOTR and The Silmarillion, is long and complex, people who aren’t big fans of reading might be turned off. For those readers, I might recommend The Hobbit, or at least a section of it to start.