Dustin Savage’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (187)

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.

Anna’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (186)

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 Anna’s responses:


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

My dad introduced me to Peter Jackson’s movies when I was 5 years old. We had them on DVD as they were coming out, and he was trying to get my older sisters into them. Instead of them being interested, I became fascinated with the imaginative people and places of Middle-earth. However, he would always fast forward through the “scary parts” when I was little, so for a long time my understanding was that The Lord of the Rings was just about happy little people with big feet! Eventually I wanted to read the books for myself, and I remember my first copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. It was an edition printed as a promotion for the films, and it had a photo of Elijah Wood as Frodo looking at the Ring on the cover. I still have that book, and it’s my most prized possession.

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

My favorite part of Tolkien’s work is the intense emotional response it creates in readers like myself. They aren’t just books or films, they’re an experience. I love that the story is so epic and grand that I can be transported to another world, but that at the same time I can connect on such a personal level with each character. Tolkien captures the big, and the small in such a masterful way. No matter how many times I’ve read the books or watched the movies, I still cry in the same places, or laugh at the same scenes. As someone who has moved around their whole life, being immersed in Tolkien’s work is the one place that I will always feel at home.

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

I would say that my fondest experience of Tolkien’s work has been how it has allowed me to connect with other people. Ever since I was introduced to The Lord of the Rings at age 5, I’ve met so many new and interesting people because of my passion for Tolkien. It allowed me to bond with my dad, make new friends in school, and go outside of my comfort zone to attend Tolkien-centered events and interact with other hardcore fans. I went to NYC Comic Con in 2018, when Peter Jackson was there promoting Mortal Engines, and waited outside Madison Square Garden at 5am to attend his panel. Most of the people waiting were there because of The Lord of the Rings films, and I will never forget the amazing people I met that morning. The most incredible thing about Tolkien’s work is that as soon as you meet another fan, you have this instant bond connecting you on a very genuine level.

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

My approach has certainly changed since I was that little girl. When I was a kid I loved Tolkien’s work for the folklore aspect, but I wasn’t aware of the scope of his work beyond LOTR and The Hobbit. Most of all, at that time it was a means of escape, as well as a bonding experience with my dad. Once I became a bit older, and more able to understand the nuances and emotional complexities of the characters, it took on a deeper level of importance to me. I expanded into The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, Beren and Lúthien, etc. I felt hungry to learn as much as possible, and to memorize as much information as I could. In high school that was my whole identity, it was what people knew about me; the “Lord of the Rings girl.” I even wrote my college application essay on my relationship to Tolkien’s work. Now in the next phase of my life as a young adult, I feel a more scholarly relationship to Tolkien’s work (as well as who he was as a person). Of course, it still remains a source of comfort to me, but I also want to view it in a more critical lens. I think that it is entirely possible to be critical of Tolkien, while still maintaining love and respect for his work. In fact, I think it has greatly enriched my relationship to his works. Throughout all of these changes and evolutions, one thing has always remained the same: the world of Tolkien remains my home.

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

I would always, always recommend Tolkien’s work. Beyond being beautifully written masterpieces, they are also a cultural phenomenon. I think that everyone can learn something about themselves and the world at large from reading his work. I do think that in 2021, it is important to be cognisant of the cultural complexities of Tolkien’s work (especially in light of the new Amazon show). Nevertheless, I think that one is fully able to be critical of some of Tolkien’s choices while still being able to appreciate the stories. I would hope that the Tolkien community can be a welcoming and safe place for a diverse group of people.

Linda Jones’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (185)

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 Linda Joness responses:


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

My aunt gave me a copy of The Hobbit when I was 10, but I didn’t get past first chapter. Then the teacher started reading it, and I was hooked.

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

I think it is the whole sub-creation that spans so much- the books, art, films, music, games, each part just adds to the immersive experience, and basically feeds the need to know/read/see more. I think that’s why I’ve spent so much on Tolkien merchandise over the years, because it makes you feel part of it, and it makes it tangible.

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

When I was 16, and absolutely obsessed, I found the Tolkien Society, and suddenly I wasn’t the only one (this was before the internet!). I went on some moots and to Oxford, and, by sticking up posters to form a local ‘smail ’ met one of my best friends. We are still close 35 years later!

And the release of the films! I remember when Amon Hen was filled with ‘who would you cast’ posts, but never thought it would be a reality. For three years it would become an event. I’d always go the first time myself, to drink it in, then a few of us would go as part of build up to xmas, with plenty of sweets and a sneaky plastic bottle of wine.

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

I think it has matured. As a teenager I was quite obsessed, then life sort of took over, as it does, and though still a huge fan, it was subdued. Recently it’s like the flame has been kindled again, and I take an active interest in online forums, have rejoined the Tolkien Society. I am rereading The Silmarillion, slowly, interspersed with resources such as the Prancing Pony Podcast, and appreciating the whole story but also pondering themes and language, and just a deeper level of understanding/ appreciation. It’s fascinating to read the online discussions and fan takes in terms of gender, sexuality, etc., and how a young generation has embraced the works but also interpreted it. I might not agree with all of it, but I think it is brilliant. I know some people feel strongly that it’s non-canon and not what Tolkien meant, but I remember reading something about how Tolkien wanted to write a mythology that would inspire creativity and interpretation. And the fact that different people love the stories, but are reframing it to make sense of their world and making it relevant to them now, without losing the central tenants (to me) of friendship, hope, triumph over evil/ adversity is brilliant. It means it will continue to be read and enjoyed and inspire.

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

Definitely! Because it’s just an amazing story, with so much depth and variety in the whole of the legendarium. It’s given me so much joy, comfort, friendship and inspiration over the years. But bottom line is that LOTR by itself is just a bloody brilliant book!


You can read more from Linda on Twitter!

David Emerson’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (184)

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 David Emerson’s responses:


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

Unlike most people younger than me, I first encountered Tolkien when he was virtually unknown in the U.S. This was long before the publications of the paperback editions (the controversial Ace editions, then the authorized Ballantine editions), which thrust them into the public eye, especially on college campuses and among the hippie element (of which I certainly counted myself).

My mother was in the habit of reading bedtime stories to my brothers and me, when each of us was too young to read them ourselves. By the time she got to my youngest brother Ed, we had been through all the children’s books in the house and all the Oz books in the public library, so she casually mentioned to her friend Lydia that she was running out of things to read her son, and asked if she had any suggestions. Lydia’s husband had close family in England, so they had made many trips over there, and had brought back books. Lydia said to my mother, “Hmm, try this,” and plucked a hardback of The Hobbit off her shelf.

As Mom started reading this book to Ed, I would overhear it as I passed by the bedroom door, and it seemed interesting enough that I would stand at the door and listen, even though I was about 14 at the time. After a few nights of this, I realized, “Duh! I don’t have to wait for tomorrow night, I can read the thing myself!” So I started reading ahead, and was entranced by this wonderful fairy tale. When I got to the end and read those portentous words, “If you are interested in Hobbits you will learn a lot more about them in The Lord of the Rings,” I was very excited and asked Lydia if she had those books. She did, and loaned them to me, and that was that! I was suddenly an avid Tolkien fan.

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

I have no permanent “favorite part” any more than I have a permanent favorite song or favorite movie. It changes all the time.

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

Reading it for the first time.

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

Definitely. At first, it was just so wonderful being swept up in the fantasy of Middle-earth: I had the “Come to Middle-earth!” poster on my wall, I pored over the maps in the backs of the hardbacks, I wrote notes to myself using the Elvish letters from Appendix E. Then when I met more people who had read and enjoyed it, I wanted to talk about it endlessly. Later, I wanted to know more about Tolkien himself, and what other writers had to say, so I read Carpenter’s biography, and the collected Letters and what few analytical books and articles existed at the time. More recently, I have been more interested in the body of literary criticism about Tolkien, reading scholars like Shippey, Flieger, Garth, etc., and attending conferences of the Tolkien Society and the Mythopoeic Society to discuss such works with friends, and even write some of my own research papers. And finally, due to my participation in online discussion groups, I now find myself re-reading The Lord of the Rings once again and appreciating it possibly more than I ever have before.

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

Years ago, I would have said “Yes!” overwhelmingly. But as Tolkien’s popularity grew, it spawned an entire new genre of fantasy, and it seemed that anyone who was interested in that type of fantasy would either have already read Tolkien or would have their own opinion about whether they’d like it or not, so my recommendation wouldn’t be much use. Now, of course, everybody in the world knows about Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, so recommending Tolkien is like recommending air.

On the other hand, there are still newcomers who have only seen the films and are just starting to read the books, and for them I would recommend starting with The Lord of the Rings and then The Hobbit; if they are sufficiently intrigued by the hints of back-story, then I would steer them to *parts* of The Silmarillion, with the warning to expect it to be more like a history than a novel. And I would definitely urge them to read the non-Middle-earth stories “Farmer Giles of Ham,” “Smith of Wooton Major,” and “Leaf by Niggle.”

Then for those who have read as much of Tolkien’s fiction as they can get their hands on, I would recommend the academics: Shippey, Flieger, and Garth to start with. Glyer and Duriez for insight on the Inklings. Essay collections from Walking Tree and the Mythopoeic Press.

TEP #42 — Season 2 Finale

In this special episode of the Tolkien Experience Podcast, Luke, Sarah, and Sara wrap up the second season!

They thank the listeners, reflect on some of their favorite interviews and the changes to the podcast over the year, and share how their own Tolkien Experience has shifted this year!

We hope you enjoy it. Remember, there will be more TEP coming your way after the holiday season!

Please consider supporting the Podcast on Patreon!

Subscribe to the podcast via:

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Catherine Madsen’s Experience– Tolkien Experience Project (183)

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 Catherine Madsen’s responses:


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

I can’t improve on my mother’s account, though it’s a bit long:

“As for The Hobbit, I’ll have to take the credit or the blame for introducing you to that book. It happened like this. I was in a graduate library science seminar with my favorite L[ibrary]S[cience] professor one summer [probably 1961]. She divided the class up and gave us the task of coming up with a project that would enrich or strengthen our work and the profession. There was a children’s literature expert at Wayne [State] who was internationally known, named Dr. Eloise Ramsey. My partner and I decided we wanted to interview her and see what her recommendations were for the top, not to be missed, books for children. We would get her permission to duplicate the list and share it with the hundred or so school librarians in the seminar. There was only one problem. She had the reputation of being unpredictable, irascible and generally unapproachable. Certainly her image did not encourage queries. She had never read How to Dress for Success, but went around in cotton house dresses and socks. Our professor approved the project, saying that if we managed to get the interview it would indeed be a contribution.

“I was determined, after all I had another motivation, my darling daughter, for whom I wanted nothing but the best. My partner was game if I was. I made the phone call and very respectfully broached the project, stressing how helpful the bibliography would be. She made an appointment to see us and got so interested that she offered to give a presentation at the seminar, which was excellent and well received, and her top pick was The Hobbit.

“When it was sure we were going to Alaska I bought The Hobbit thinking that we would read it aloud evenings by the light of the Coleman lantern since it was also about a journey, but you wanted the familiar Wind in the Willows since you were dealing with the unfamiliar every day and I think you were right. Later when you were settled in you chose to read it and fell in love with it.

“p.s. The university hung on to Dr. Ramsey, socks and all, in the hope that when she died she would leave the library her fabulous children’s literature collection which she did.”

(Winifred Madsen, e-mail correspondence 04 May 2012.) 

My mother actually did read me the first several chapters during our first months in Alaska, making up tunes for the songs as she went along. By then I knew what a journey was, and pretty soon I devoured the rest of the book on my own and fell into a stupor of northernness from which I have never recovered. Inhaling The Lord of the Rings a year later only compounded it. This was in 1962/63, and I never met anyone else who had read the books (unless I told them to) until I went to college in 1969. There was one other family in Fairbanks that checked the books out of the library when I didn’t have them; I never knew who they were.

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

I can’t approach it that way; it’s like being asked to name your favorite piece of music. Reading The Hobbit and especially The Lord of the Rings, there in Alaska, changed me from an urban little girl all ready to be obsessed with boys and movie stars to an introspective kid with a religious sensibility and a feeling for trees and mountains. There’s a Yup’ik Eskimo expression I learned decades later, “When I first became aware”; it was like that, or like Wordsworth’s gaining a “sense of unknown modes of being.” The languages, the mighty landscapes, the sense of longing, the sense of loss—even the political tensions, like the bargaining over the Arkenstone or the strategic workings of Denethor’s mind—all of it added up to a world, a powerful source of strength and freshness and a moral demand. I felt trusted to have an intelligence and a soul.

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

“Fondest” doesn’t quite compute, any more than “favorite.” Perhaps I need to go to the social level to answer that question. That would be my first meeting with the Tolkien Fellowship at Michigan State University. They had an annual Frodo and Bilbo’s Birthday celebration, which began with a walk in the campus woodlot while singing A Elbereth Gilthoniel to the English tune “Lovely Joan” (which Virginia Dabney, one of their founders, had swiped from Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves). I felt I had finally found my people. In the long run of course it was more complicated than that, but I’m glad I spent my college years with them and not with the druggies or the political radicals; in spite of the emotional upheavals and missteps common to young nerds, we had a kind of equilibrium, a sense of what mattered. That remains, whenever I’m in contact with one of those people—a profound core of shared experience and mutual understanding.

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

Certainly—there’s a great difference between an eleven-year-old swept away by the beauty of language and imaginary landscapes and an adult with critical faculties and a wider experience of literature. But Tolkien holds up to adult sensibilities better than I feared he might, and perhaps (for a certain kind of kid) even helps to develop adult sensibilities. By the time I was fourteen I had tracked down “The Monsters and the Critics” and “On Fairy-Stories,” and being primed by the imaginary scholarship of the appendices I was excited to encounter real scholarship for the first time. When I was in my twenties Tolkien’s letters appeared, and I was moved to see the sophistication and humanity of his political thinking and the range of his interests. It’s been a pleasure (and a relief) to see Tolkien criticism become more and more substantive.

Perhaps the thing that most strikes me now is the sense of Tolkien’s voice as a father’s voice—not just the silly authorial asides in The Hobbit or the weaving-in of themes and characters and phrases and in-jokes from The Hobbit into The Lord of the Rings, but the way the story grows from a homelike amusement to something big and dangerous, so that by the time you’ve finished you’ve had a full course in responsibility and moral gravity and intercultural tensions and making decisions without enough information and living with the consequences, and humility and wonder and hope and brokenness and heartbrokenness and bereavement. He’s a father who wants you to grow up. That doesn’t mean the story is only for children; it means there are discoveries to make in it even as an adult.

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

Always.

There will always be people who won’t like it—who are too guarded, for one reason or another, to sense its complexity and power—but it’s now clear that there are people all over the world who are moved and somehow guided by it, and I wouldn’t want anyone to miss the chance of reading it in case it might take them in that way.


You can read more from Catherine Madsen on her blog!

Deniz Bevan’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (182)

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 Deniz Bevan’s responses:


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

My parents had a paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings. Now that I think about it, I seem to remember reading The Hobbit first, but I can’t remember if they had a copy or if I found it in the school library. I was 11, and have been rereading The Lord of the Rings at least once a year since then (over 30 years)!

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

That’s very difficult to choose. I love the poetry, the humour, the grand sweep, and the small moments.

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

So many things! Being so moved by the poems that I had to read them aloud (lucky I was alone at a train station at the time!). Discovering the History of Middle-Earth books as a teenager and being excited by how much there was to read! Finally getting to go to my first Tolkien Society event (Tolkien 2019). Reading Mr Bliss to my young daughter for the first time…

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

I don’t think so. I’m still just as affected by the stories, in a good way. But it’s lovely to be more involved with the Tolkien Society than I was when I was younger.

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

Definitely! I have a few friends who think his writing is description-heavy, and I’m always trying to explain both that it’s not and that even if it is, it’s all wonderful! I also go on quite a bit about the worldbuilding, and how well all the history, language, and stories come together. One of my favourite subjects!


You can read more from Deniz Bevan on their blog!

Tim “Ranatuor” Bolton’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (181)

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 Tim Bolton’s responses:


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

I can squarely lay the blame of my love for Tolkien solely on my older brother, Paul. It would have been his copy of The Hobbit I read. My memory is hazy but I was likely about eight years old. I loved The Hobbit, the story awakened something in me, but I will admit I found The Lord of the Rings harder to tackle and I was in my early teens when I finally read that – I blame the Shire, after the Hobbit I wanted more adventure, so wasn’t quite ready to spend too long with pastoral Hobbits. That has changed, now I am older. I was born a few months after we sadly lost J.R.R. Tolkien, so I was the generation growing up just as gaming in Tolkien hit new heights. My connection with Tolkien, as a young boy, was strengthened by gaming. I have fond memories of the Commodore 64 version of The Hobbit (1982), “Gandalf goes West” and “Thorin sits down and sings about gold” are phrases I still jokingly use. Though those bulbous eyes in the Mirkwood Forest were the bane of me. It all seemed to happen around the same time, probably about 1984. My older brother got the Middle-earth Roleplaying game (1984) and I spent hours looking through the books. I think it was around then that Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings (1978) either came on TV or on VHS. It was a great time to be a young Tolkien fan (and a gamer). 

Sadly, at the end of 2019 my older brother lost his battle against struggles with mental health. If there is one thing that has helped me through that, it is all the things he got me into – Tolkien, gaming/rolelplaying, just trying to be a decent person (like the heroes in the books) and helping others.  

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

That is hard to pin down, it’s multiple things. As a young boy, a sense of adventure and exploration. The map of Wilderland just blew me away. It still does. As I grew older, the Fellowship itself draws me, the friendship – something I feel missing from my own life, a tight-knit group of friends who stick together. I have friends, but scattered all over the place. If there is one thing that draws me really in, it’s the land itself, Middle-earth – the places out there to explore, ruins of past places, the supernatural elements, monsters, the varied cultures. Tolkien’s art is gorgeous and helps visualising it all.  

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

I guess I have a few. It was spending time with Tolkien’s books, exploring Middle-earth. I have poured uncountable hours into that. Doing the same in games, whether it was the C64 Hobbit or currently, Lord of the Rings Online. And I can say joining the Tolkien Society has also given fond memories, seeing people who love it as much as I do, being at the Tolkien 2019 event and even recently at the Tolkien Society seminar, listening to scholars talk with such passion about Tolkien and what he means to them. Tolkien brings people together, and for a wandering loner like myself, it gives me a sense of place and belonging at times I need it. 

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

Yes! As a child it was adventure and fun. As an adult, that is still there (how could it not be?), but having spent time away (I went to the Dark Side and focused a lot on my other love of Star Wars – again my brother to blame), I realised there was so much more to Tolkien. Little by little, step by step, I dip into Tolkien academia and the future hope of writing my own articles about the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. I have discovered my love of our British past because of Tolkien – the legends, lore and mythology of Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and others. That has shaped me even through doing Art History as a degree and wanting to focus on the ancient world and Middle Ages. In terms of future research, I definitely have a focus – the land itself, nature, ruins and the otherworldly/monstrous. We’ll see where that goes. In the last ten years, I have spent more time visiting places associated with Tolkien – Oxford and Birmingham of course. Not being a driver, I did an expedition which hopefully Bilbo himself would be proud of, getting to a fairly difficult to reach Wayland’s Smithy (near Uffington White Horse) where Tolkien used to picnic. That was a proud moment and also a fantastic experience. As a regular walker, I get the same sense of what Tolkien also felt, a love of the English (British) countryside and the nature around us. It’s a wonderful thing to share with Tolkien. I hope that will work its way into my research and eventual writings – the love of walking. But Tolkien is the gift that keeps giving, the more you read him, the more you find. And I am overwhelmed with the level of Tolkien scholarship out there now – I can’t get enough of it. 

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

Is this a trick question? There are people out there I would not push a Tolkien book into their hands. But those people I know, and I know he’s not just for them. But for everyone else, who loves adventure, sense of history and culture, I would always say to them, give Tolkien a go. As a child and as an adult, I find Tolkien worthy of re-reading over and over. Not quite sure I’ll get the same level as Christopher Lee reading The Lord of the Rings once a year, but I’ll give it a go. And I can happily admit my love of gaming in Middle-earth is something that flows out of me and I am forever recommending the current games to everyone, probably to their annoyance.  


You can read more from Tim Bolton on his blog and on Twitter!

Graeme Cheadle’s Experience– Tolkien Experience Project (180)

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 Graeme Cheadle’s responses:


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

I was first introduced to Tolkien’s work as a child. Both my parents had read and enjoyed The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the late ’60s or early ’70s, and my mother in particular was given a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, I think (or perhaps it was the entire trilogy) by a friend when she had a serious illness and was recuperating in hospital. Years later, when my siblings and I had been born but were still quite young, she’d tell us about hobbits and Black Riders when we were on camping trips, and the small hints I got from those stories fascinated me. I think we also had a companion book to the 1978 Bakshi animated film adaption of The Lord of the Rings at home, and a copy of The Father Christmas Letters, though my brother and sister and I didn’t really get the significance of them at the time. My mom later read The Hobbit to us, and eventually I read The Lord of the Rings myself one summer, and I was hooked.

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

It’s difficult to put this into words, because there is so much I could mention. I think what keeps me coming back is the intensely believable “reality” of Tolkien’s invented worlds. They’ve always seemed very real to me, and I’ve always wanted to visit and even live in them. Tolkien himself said something about the attraction of what he called the “unattainable vistas” of his worlds, “the glimpses of a large history in the background, an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist.” You get the feeling when reading The Lord of the Rings, or even The Hobbit, of a much larger, vaster, and incredibly older *history* behind them, both internal and external, to the places and characters that Tolkien describes, and to which some of the characters look back, whether it be Aragorn singing the Lay of Leithian to the hobbits or Elrond astonishing Frodo by saying he remembered The War of the Last Alliance, and indeed the War of Wrath itself. Most casual readers never find out a lot about these things, but they seem very real and fully formed, by both Tolkien and his characters. This “realism” always intensely attracted me to his works.

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

This is very difficult too. I suppose my favourite memory was the first time I read The Lord of the Rings at 13 or 14 years old; in some ways I’ve been trying to recapture that magic ever since, for the past 30 years. More recently however, the highlight of my Tolkien experience was visiting Oxford in early 2019, seeing some of the places he lived and worked, visiting his grave, and, best of all, having a pint in the room he used to drink in at The Eagle and Child with C.S. Lewis and the rest of the Inklings, in a chair by the fire, reading “The Fall of Gondolin,” on his birthday (his 127th), which was also my birthday (my 41st). I think that’s about as “peak Tolkien” as you can get, unless you could visit Middle-earth or talk to the professor himself.

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

I would say yes, because at first my appreciation was very much tied to the narrative: I just wanted to know what happened, and how things get resolved. Eventually that led to me wanting to know more about the worlds in which the events take place, as much as I could, and I read The Silmarillion and parts of The History of Middle-earth series. In both high school and university I started to analyze the tales in a more academic and scholarly way, and this interest has persisted to the present day, hence my research into podcasts, all kinds of books, articles, talks, etc., about both the man and his works. But the purely narrative draw has never really diminished for me either.

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

Absolutely, and in fact I do all the time. Anyone who knows me much at all knows about my Tolkien fascination, and I certainly recommend the books to friends for the pure enjoyment I think they bring. I look forward to teaching my young niece and nephew all about The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in a few years, and I even bring Tolkien up occasionally in my professional life, as a teacher of English as a Second Language.


You can read more from Graeme on Facebook!

TEP #41 — Matt from “The Nerd of the Rings”

For this episode, I had the chance to catch up with the creator of the YouTube Channel The Nerd of the Rings!

Matt started his channel to talk about his passion for Tolkien and it has really taken off over the past two years! I was able to have a great conversation with him about what some of his favorite topics have been, and how he was first introduced to Tolkien’s world!

Unedited 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!

Links to audio of this interview are below!

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