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 Eve’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My first memory of Tolkien’s work was as a child, where my dad read The Hobbit to me. We had (and still have) a beautiful large hardback 1992 edition, illustrated by Michael Hague, who some may also know as the illustrator of The Wind in the Willows. It’s definitely an edition I recommend for children, the illustrations tell the story well, and Hague’s Smaug is really stunning. From there I read Lord of the Rings for the first time for myself when I was 11, borrowing a three-in-one edition from the local library, which was the ethereal 1991 Alan Lee hardback edition. Working through a book of that size as an 11-year-old was a challenge, but certainly brought with it a sense of achievement!
When the first movie (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) came out, I bought the 2001 movie tie-in editions and they remain my well-worn copies. My dad, sisters and I saw the movies together and they instantly became a staple in our house – every Christmas over the school holidays I would re-read the books, and we would borrow a projector from school and play the movies projected on the bedroom wall, sitting on the floor near the warm pipes – the perfect winter activity. In this way, Tolkien is and remains a sense of comfort in my life.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
Tolkien’s works, the Peter Jackson movies, and hopefully now Amazon’s The Rings of Power, have always brought a powerful sense of connection and community. Being a part of the Tolkien Society over lockdown, particularly the Tolkien and Diversity seminar, really helped to strengthen this recently in a Global sense – Will Sherwood the education secretary has done a great job! On a more personal note, the people I have loved most in my life have also been lovers of Tolkien. It is something my sisters and I can bond over – sending each other memes, taking ‘which orc are you’ quizzes, quoting the movies back to each other, gifting each other an oversized cardboard cut out of Gollum and the Evenstar jewelry…
In addition, many features from Tolkien’s works were used at my wedding – our table plan was a map from The Lord of the Rings, and the table names were places from the legendarium, from Númenor to Bree. Whilst preparing for the wedding, we also had a poster on our door, using the ‘Ringbearer’ font from the movies, of Bilbo’s sign from his 111th birthday: ‘no admittance except on party business’. That’s without mentioning the money we won on the Lord of the Rings slot machines on honeymoon in Las Vegas…
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
One of the aspects of Tolkien’s work that makes it so special to me is the personal connection to both Oxford and the Midlands. I was born in Oxford, and grew up there until I was ten years old. My family then moved to the Midlands, not far from Birmingham which inspired the eponymous two towers, and where Tolkien went to school. He then went on to Oxford University and raised his family in Headington, where I grew up. This included his youngest daughter Priscilla, the president of the Tolkien Society, who recently died, and it was an honor to sign her last-ever birthday card along with fellow members of the society. It was also a wonderful experience to see the Maker of Middle Earth exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford in 2018 and see many of the original manuscripts, illustrations and letters there.
Reading Tolkien has always been a way for me to find and sustain that connection between Oxford where I grew up as a child, and the Midlands where I moved to as a teenager. Tolkien’s description of the landscape, and how it feels to move from place to place has always made such an impression on me, in how he manages to convey a sense of belonging, and how no detail is too small or unimportant – everything adds to your experience of being welcomed into and connected to his world.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
I have always taken Tolkien’s world-building seriously, and believe that is how he would have wanted his works to be understood, considering his knowledge of and dedication to philology; there is no doubt in my mind that the language is fundamental to the legendarium, and particularly how it functions as an alternate history of England. As a child, I first viewed Tolkien’s work as fun adventure stories full of challenges and experiences, and as a teenager, I related heavily to Eowyn’s feeling of being trapped by her familial expectations of duty, and society’s expectations of her gender. However, it was also as a teenager that the lightness and silliness of Tolkien’s work also came to the fore with online fandom taking off, and in the mid to late 2000s I ran the official fanlistings site for Ian Holm, who played Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings movies, and was a part of fan culture online, creating memes, digital artwork, attending comic con, etc., and I remain a part of the online fandom. Something that I have also done for the past few years is be involved in Tolkien Reading Day on March 25th: the Tolkien Society chooses a theme each year, and you can choose a passage from the legendarium that touches on the theme – during covid in 2021 the theme was Love and Friendship, and it was a surprisingly emotional and healing experience to be in a zoom meeting of strangers, but fellow Tolkien lovers reading and supporting each other.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
This is an easy question – of course! The only caveat I usually give is that in The Lord of the Rings there are very lengthy descriptions of the landscape, which not every reader can take. With regards to the three Lord of the Rings movies, I consider them perfect cinematic masterpieces (extended editions), from the editing to the score. I sometimes also give a caveat here on the depiction of race and gender. I am a supporter of the changes to Arwen’s character (and even to an extent the introduction of Tauriel in The Hobbit movies) but overall in the legendarium there is comparatively not a lot of diverse representation of gender and even less of race.
I would highly recommend The Hobbit as a fantasy novel for parents to read to children, it’s a great introduction to a family-friendly series that explores important values such as friendship, betrayal, good and evil, love, struggle, sacrifice, and the beauty of the natural world. Being exposed to world-building and strong characters at a young age can also develop a child’s literacy, imagination and creativity, and strengthen the connection between you through the act of sharing Tolkien’s works together.
You can find Eve Hooper on Twitter!