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 Dustin Savage’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My introduction to Tolkien was actually a two-pronged approach. The first introduction was through the Rankin-Bass animated Hobbit. I recall coming home (I was probably 7 or 8 years old) and my older sisters were watching it (I came in right when Bilbo was separated from the dwarves in the goblin tunnels). Though I didn’t immediately read The Hobbit, there was a copy of it on our bookshelf and my older sister and I would memorize all the riddles.
The second introduction came within a year after that – I discovered the old 1991 Interplay computer game The Lord of the Rings. At first I didn’t realize that it was based in the same universe as The Hobbit, though the names sounded familiar. My dad filled me in that there was a sequel to The Hobbit, and we went to the local library and found copies of the 3 parts.
However, being 8/9 years old I didn’t get very far through the book (got stuck in Tom Bombadil’s house) and had to return the books to the library. The next year I was in Grade 5, and it was the year that The Lord of the Rings was named book of the century. A new kid at our school brought in a very nice copy of the complete volume for show and tell and it was a catalyst in us becoming friends. We both started reading it.
Sadly, I really rushed myself, and my friend (who was the faster reader) spoiled some major things (Boromir’s death, Gandalf’s return, Gollum dying). I was more interested in the Sam & Frodo story, so I found a lot of Books 3 & 5 boring and skimmed large chunks. A lot of the story didn’t stick, but I still labelled myself a Lord of the Rings nerd, and my friend and I played the heck outta that computer game. As such, Book 1 is still my favourite part of The Lord of the Rings as the game made it so familiar to me.
A couple years later the movies were announced. I think I fit in a reread or two of the trilogy in that time. I know for a fact I would reread “Shelob’s Lair”, “The Choices of Master Samwise”, and “The Scouring of the Shire” over and over.
In my 20s I grew out of Tolkien – just a part of going off to university and growing up – but when I was nearly 30 I started diving back in (I think this was due to gaining a greater appreciation of CS Lewis). I was amazed at how immersive Tolkien’s work was, and would keep it by my bed-side. I ended up reading The Lord of the Rings yearly for about 4 years, and branched out and finally tackled The Silmarillion, Children of Húrin, Tree and Leaf, The Fall of Gondolin, and most of The Unfinished Tales. I discovered The Tolkien Professor and Mythgard and was a regular listener for quite a while – I still pop in now and then.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
An easy answer would be the heroics and virtues displayed by the characters. You see classical virtues exemplified such as courage, sacrifice, love, friendship, repentance, the whole gamut.
However, at this time of my life I’d have to say it’s the important spot that language plays in Tolkien’s legendarium. Middle-earth was birthed out of language, or, to reference St. John, Middle-earth is Tolkien’s logos putting on flesh and dwelling amongst us. I believe Tolkien (and Lewis with him) are recent examples of the power of Medieval Philosophical Realism, and his work – as well as being a treasure of this worldview – also points backwards to many other
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
Honestly, it would be the several times seeing The Fellowship of the Ring movie in the theatres. I was a bit of an outcast in high school (nerd culture wasn’t mainstream yet) and this big blockbuster movie brought such validation to who I was at the time. Plus, my dad was battling cancer at the time (he won). In order for my mom to go visit him (we lived well out of town) she would bring me and my younger brother to the theatre, buy us tickets to Fellowship, then go spend time alone with my dad. I don’t know if I could attribute it to the movie, but that whole season I just had a sense that everything was going to be okay.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Absolutely. Before it was just about fantasy, swords and shields, and escapism. Now, it’s linguistics, philology, world-building, Old Western Culture, and metaphysics.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Always. I know several people who’ve tried and given up, and I’m quick to encourage them to give it another go. It’s essentially great art – a purer and greater Khazad-dum that has no shortage of riches to better the soul.