Sue Bridgewater’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (59)

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 Sue and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

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 Sue Bridgewater’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

At University in the late sixties, I made some very good friends who have stuck with me for 50 years. One of these, during a conversation about what we had all read before we became official students of Literature and Language, turned an astonished gaze upon me and cried ‘What do you mean, you haven’t read The Hobbit?’

So I put off buying whatever set text I should have bought for a while, and bought The Hobbit. Fell in to it and disappeared for a while.  Came out and read The Lord of the Rings (I still got my required essays written, though they were rather a nuisance.)

And so it went on – and so it goes on.  New Tolkien text appears; I buy it, read it, cherish it. What would have happened if I’d fallen in with a different group of friends is something I try not to imagine.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I’m not keen on ‘favourite’ questions – each of Tolkien’s works, whether fiction or scholarly, has its own tones and nuances and qualities which need to be appreciated for themselves.  Over the years, I have when pushed begun to say that my favourites are Smith of Wotton Major and Leaf by Niggle; however, all the others are my favourites too!

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

The many times I have been moved to tears reading or re-reading key passages: Thorin’s death; Frodo’s ‘I will take the ring’; the fall of Gandalf; ‘joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief;’ and many others.

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

Yes, as I have read more of his works, and more (and more) of the writings about him and his work, I have learned to understand how sub-creations affect us, that my tears were and are expressions of recovery, escape and consolation. When re-reading, I’m not looking at the works in that assessing kind of way, but do draw more from them as a reader because of my deeper understanding.  I’ve also written and had published a few articles about Tolkien’s work, and turned to writing my own sub-creative fiction.

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

Yes, but not to everyone I know. You can’t make everyone over into copies of yourself, and ‘Fantasy’, speculative fiction, is not for everyone. Although everyone needs their own roads to recovery, escape and consolation, we have to accept that we can’t force people to like everything we like.  I’m happy to be in touch with fellow Tolkienists across the world and to share our pleasure in Tolkien; that’s a joy within the walls of the world, and a light when all other lights go out.


For more from Sue, you can follow the blog on her website!

LotRFI–Signing Off

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to add a postscript to this project thanking you all for joining me on this fun journey to reconstruct my first reading of LotR! If you want to revisit any of my First Impressions series, you can see them all listed at the index page.

This series is over, and I am planning a little hiatus while I work on completing my PhD dissertation on Tolkien! Don’t be sad, though, because I have two important announcements to share with you!

First, I will continue to post the Tolkien Experience Project over the hiatus. Second, I am already contemplating what my next series of posts will be. So you will still have weekly content from the blog, and even more will follow soon!

Thanks again for supporting me in my journey to explore how many readers respond to and interact with Tolkien!

Trevor Bowen’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (58)

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 Trevor and 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 Trevor Bowen’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I stumbled upon a copy of The Hobbit in my primary school library when I was 10 years old. I can still remember the way my heart jumped and my intrigue was kindled, when I first opened the book and saw the enchanting inside cover. There was strange symbols I was later to learn are called runes, indecipherable points of the compass, and references to spiders, a Lonely Mountain and a Long Lake! And who were Thror and the Elvenking, and just what is a Great Worm? As I started to read, I quickly realized here was an adventures to be had; here was an escape from the everydayness of school and home life: here was a land I could travel to in my imagination and explore. The Hobbit whetted my appetite for my discovery of Tolkien’s trilogy which I savored with the same interest and enthusiasm. I traveled to many other imaginary lands in my younger years, and beyond our galaxy when I was a teenager. But I have always returned to Middle-earth, and still do.

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

I find it fascinating the way Tolkien created a mythology with a timescale spanning eons. There are creation stories, ancient chronicles, a fragmented antiquity of familial and tribal histories of amazingly nuanced detail and background. The magnitude of these annals is incredible in itself, and I find the depth and complexity of his storytelling throughout the ages compelling to read. It is wonderful the way these subtle through-lines, originating in earlier ages, are embedded within the well-known stories of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I particularly enjoy reading the “Ainulindalë” and the way music themes are incorporated into the building of the Eä and Arda.

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

I have read some of Tolkien’s works to groups of children, in particular The Hobbit. I have been quite surprised and reassured that children still enjoy having stories read to them, even though they have grown up in a world with so many exciting forms of digital entertainment. I realized for the first time that reading a text aloud is so much different from reading a story in your head. I had read The Hobbit many times previously, but in reading the story aloud, I experienced a different appreciation in how Tolkien crafted words and created imagery. In many of the children’s eyes, I could see that spark of attentiveness and interest that told me they had tasted something of the magic of Tolkien’s writings.

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

Over the years I have progressed from being a ‘recreational’ reader of Tolkien’s writings enjoying regular re-readings of my favorite texts, to a more scholarly approach. Now there is a longing to dig deeper into his life and background, and to explore the expansive detail of his legendarium. I thoroughly enjoy delving into much of Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth, Tolkien’s minor works and the range of other texts published since the Professor passed away. I have put together a treasured collection of biographies, essays and reference books all Tolkien related. I enjoy following an element of his legendarium, exploring the languages created, cultures and creatures and the multitude of layers that go into making up his fascinating sub creation.

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

Yes, I would. I think other people deserve to be exposed to stories that are both enthralling and entertaining at a heartfelt level, and challenging in the moral and cognitive sense. Reading Tolkien’s works often affect me emotionally and intellectually. I appreciate what he wrote in the preface to The Lord of the Rings: “applicability to the thought and experience of readers”. As a writer he gives the reader freedom to apply the outcomes you think and feel from reading his works to your own life. To me, there is much truth and encouragement in Tolkien’s work that can be supportive of a positive and fulfilling life of any reader.


For more Tolkien talk from Trevor Bowen, follow the Melbourne Tolkien Smial on Facebook!

LotRFI Pt60–The Last Word

‘Well, I’m back’ (RK, VI, IX, 1031).

Seriously, that is the end?!?

I was incredulous and underwhelmed. After such a lengthy and grueling journey, in which I had left so many characters and experiences behind, I expected, nay deserved, more! I was flabbergasted that this was the end to such an epic quest. After the shock of this ending passed, my mind began creating a number of endings that I thought were more suitable for the story.

im-back_orig
Image copyright New Line Cinema

Perhaps the three remaining hobbits ride out together on more adventures. They revisit Bombadil and purge the evil from the Barrow Downs. Perhaps they go back to Bree and set the record straight about the Rangers. My mind was racing because I could not settle for the ending I was presented with.

This was probably a major contributing factor for why I didn’t read the appendices. I was so let down by this ending that I walked away and entered into my own imagination to change it. I have subsequently realized that I would have undoubtedly been upset by any ending to the story, and that all of my own ‘endings’ were really an attempt to extend the story, even into a sequel. Indeed, it is probably because I did not read the appendices that my own imagination took flight into different stories. Had I read them, I probably would have been re-grounded in Middle-earth and the background of LotR instead of trying to extend the story in my own direction.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to this final line?
Did you go on to read the appendices?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Airin’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (57)

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 Airin and 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 Airin’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I come from a family of bookworms, and when I was around 10, my older sister recommended The Hobbit to me. I enjoyed it well enough, but it was only when I read The Lord of the Rings a few years later (again recommended by my sister) that I fell irrevocably in love with Tolkien.

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

I find the themes deeply moving: the joy like swords, wells of sorrow, tears of blessedness, pain and delight flowing together. The depth of his world-building is also absolutely fascinating. The languages, the cultures, the histories—everything is so detailed and real that you can immerse yourself completely in his world.

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

My first few years as a fan. Immediately after I read The Lord of the Rings, I borrowed every Tolkien book I could find at my local library. When I exhausted their meager selection, I went to a bigger one. I will never forget the thrill and heartache I experienced when I first read the tragic tales of the Elder Days. It was (and still is) the greatest literary adventure that I ever embarked upon.

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

Definitely. At first, I was mainly interested in the histories and back stories, but now that I’ve read most of his fiction, I feel more drawn to examining his elaborate world-building, complicated characters, and subtle themes. I’ve only been a fan for a dozen years, so there is still much to discover. But even if I spend my whole life studying Tolkien, I happily doubt I will ever hit bottom.

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

If someone shows interest or if I think they might be interested, I would give a restrained recommendation. I consider Tolkien the Bible of English literature, but I know the dangers of reading a book with high expectations so I try not to hype a book that may not be their cup of tea. Better to expect little and be pleasantly surprised!


You can follow Airin on Twitter!

LotRFI Pt.59–Grey Havens

The lengthy series of departures earlier in the text were very trying for me. This parting of ways, though, was much more difficult. Not only was it the end of Frodo’s journey, but of Bilbo’s and Gandalf’s as well.

alan-lee-grey-havens_orig
Image copyright Alan Lee

The blow of the previous departures was softened by my expectation that all books ended with characters back to where they began. On some level, then, I knew that the heroes could not all live the rest of their days in Gondor or the Shire together. I was not expecting these three major characters to leave now, so late in the text and with so little forewarning. Of course, reading it again, I saw just how many times the narration describes such a departure, but I was not looking for it the first time.

I was heart-broken when it became clear that all three of these characters were leaving. The only solace I had was the way in which Frodo hands down his story to Sam. The tradition is kept alive for another generation of hobbits, and the obligation that began with Bilbo continues.

Another one of the most memorable quotes from my first read comes from this scene. Gandalf tells the hobbits that he will not castigate them for crying:

‘I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil’ (RK, VI, IX, 1030).

This was a consolation to me, as a reader who was already crying before this line. As a young boy, this was not the kind of response I typically received to tears. Gandalf’s acceptance of grief made me that much more emotive for the remainder of the scene, and I remember tucking myself away for a good cry after finishing the text.

It is important to note, once again, that I was not a very observant reader in terms of foreshadowing, and I did not read the appendices. Because of these facts, I did not understand that Frodo and the others aboard the ship were headed to a land of healing. Instead, I read the entire passage as an extended metaphor for death. As Frodo gazes out into the mist and espies

‘white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise’ (RK, Vi, IX, 1030).

I took this as a reference to heaven. These characters were dying and passing into the next life, leaving the others to pass on their story. I do not know if this deepened my sadness. It was the departure, the absence, which truly made me sad. In any case, I read the remainder of the text dutifully, but without much enthusiasm.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Final words of the text, where else?

What Do You Think?

How did you react to the Grey Havens?
​Did you know where Frodo was headed?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Megan N. Fontenot’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (56)

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 Megan and 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 Megan N. Fontenot’s responses:


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

My family read a lot growing up. Since we were homeschooled, my mom would read all sorts of classics to us during the day, and then my dad would read something each night after dinner. So, two of my brothers and I had heard both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings read aloud by my dad probably by the time I was 6 or 7. I was an imaginative child who adopted the persona of favorite characters in the books my parents read to us with startling dexterity in a child so young. I distinctly remember trekking about our house with a blanket thrown over my shoulders as a cloak: I was Frodo, and after a little coaxing I convinced my little brother to follow me around as my faithful Samwise. But although I enjoyed both of those books at that age, I didn’t really latch onto them until I re-read both as a young teen, ironically because my older brother told me they were “kind of Celtic” and I was obsessed with Celticism at the time.

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

Wow. This is always a difficult question for me because I’m so intensely involved in everything Tolkien I can get my hands on… Here are a few things I especially love, though: Éowyn’s triumph over the Witchking and her subsequent healing alongside Faramir; the coming of Tuor and Voronwë to Gondolin; the humor and pathos of Tolkien’s various shorter stories (including the ones “for children,” like Roverandom); Legolas’s fascinating relationship with ecology; Finrod’s contest with Sauron; Fingon’s rescue of Maedhros; and the singing-into-being of Arda.

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

I love the experience of sharing Tolkien with other people, honestly. I’m never more keenly aware of the power of his stories than when I connect with people over his work and we can share our excitement and curiosity. And I especially love hearing from people to whom I’ve recommended his work. It’s almost like getting to experience that first-time thrill all over again! Stories are made to be shared, and Tolkien’s have inspired entire communities of enthusiasts who are able to put aside differences and come together and share their love of a single thing… and that’s powerful. We desperately need stories that inspire friendship, community, and hope in our world, and Tolkien’s seem to do that particularly well.

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

Most definitely. A decade-ish ago, when I first took up The Lord of the Rings again as a young teen, I never expected to one day consider myself a Tolkien scholar. In the intervening years, I’ve learned so much about Tolkien himself, his way of creating, the world he lived in, the world he was creating… I would be concerned if my approach hadn’t changed! I can say for certain that I’ve been able to cultivate a critical attitude towards Tolkien’s work that allows me to write about it academically—which is in some respects really hard to do for someone who’s also a diehard fan. But I’ve found that my ability to approach Tolkien’s oeuvre critically has only deepened my appreciation and love for what he accomplished, even while I can also see its flaws.

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

Absolutely. I recommend it every chance I get. Tolkien’s work is special, having certain qualities that never fail to move me; and opening his world to others is a joyful experience, like sharing good news or a great gift. When I recommend it, I often tell people that it takes effort and patience on the part of the reader, but that they won’t fail to be rewarded. The length of The Lord of the Rings, for example, makes the excitement and relief of its eucatastrophe all the more potent. You feel as though you’ve made the journey alongside the characters. It’s just beautiful.


For more from Megan, you can go to her website, or follow her series on Tor.com!

LotRFI Pt.58–The Scouring of the Shire

I was utterly unprepared for the Scouring in my first read of LotR. Almost every book I had ever read had an ultimate climax, and then a denouement to return the main characters to normalcy. I was shocked that there could be trouble after the Ring is destroyed.

sergei-lukhimov_orig
Image copyright Sergei Yukhimov

This event was pivotal to my interpretation of the hobbits in my first reading, though. This is where the hobbits display their new-found maturity. The quest has changed each of them, and those changes are displayed throughout their confrontations in the Shire. Merry, Pippin, and Sam all gained courage, confidence, and the ability to lead others.

Nowhere were these traits more apparent to me than in the preparations leading up to the Battle of Bywater. The hobbits of the Fellowship gather together disparate groups of hobbits and rally their spirits to out their oppressors.

For Sam, courage manifests itself on a personal level as he finds the strength to talk to Rosey Cotton, and ultimately marry her. Frodo, though, shows a different type of development. He has learned pity and mercy after these characteristics saved his life and all of Middle-earth. He demonstrates this several times in his interaction with Saruman and Wormtongue outside of Bag End. He offers them freedom and forgiveness several times.

As a child, I detected the changes in Pippin and Merry much more readily than those in Frodo and Sam. Their actions and outward appearance changes drastically after the quest. Even Sam was easier to understand because he seeks out more responsibility and involvement in the community. While Frodo partakes in many of these same responsibilities, this is not as noticeable a change for him.

Unlike the other hobbits, though, Frodo carries wounds that never heal. While Frodo was my least favorite hobbit, I still pitied his pain and I wondered if he would ever find healing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Grey Havens, then on to the final words of the story.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to the change in the hobbits?
What did you think of Frodo’s pain?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Ian L. Collier–Tolkien Experience Project (55)

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 Ian and 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 Ian L. Collier’s responses:


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

Technically at school as my class of 12 year old kids had The Hobbit as a book to read as a class reading (each taking turns to read it) but as my father died around then I didn’t finish it with the class and forgot all about it – you can guess why. 4 years later though during the summer holiday from school I saw my sister reading a book with a strange design of a ring & strange red letters and asked what it was – she told me I could read it after I’d read The Hobbit. So I read The Hobbit and then sneaked reading of The Lord of the Rings (in 3 volumes) as my sister hadn’t finished it but had to go to work at her summer job – so I could read it when she wasn’t at home – and then went to get copy of from the library to read straight away after. I’d read Catch22 in a similar fashion earlier but have only re-read that once unlike TH & LotR etc 😉

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

Oh now that is something I would describe as very hard to pin down beyond ‘all of it’ In TH & LotR There’s the sheer depth of the world you experience around the characters and action. TH may be a bedtime story for kids but there are all these hints at older stranger things around the edges, in LotR there are even more and then at the end you get the appendices and “Tale of Years” with all these little snippets of ‘history’. After that you find The Silmarillion with its mythology and then the wars of the elves that are hinted at in TH. Unfinished Tales is a gem as it bridges Sil & TH/LotR with background information and also new stories.
After that you can discover Farmer Giles of Ham, or Niggle and his Tree, and the Father Christmas Letters are jewels of imagination and artistry, Tolkien’s output is a deep well of wonderful tales or scholarship wrapped up in fiction.
There is also the pleasure to be found in reading them aloud to other people (kids & adults).

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

Reading Farmer Giles of Ham with a group of students in Taruithorn (The Oxford Tolkien Society) who had never read it before – it was a delight.

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

Not really, I still just pick up a book from my shelves – they are quite tame so there’s no need to sneak up on them.

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

Of course I would, and have, before the films actually came out I was interviewed a few times for the Tolkien Society and I was asked what I would say to someone who had tried to read LotR and given up – my reply was to read it until the end of the Council of Elrond and if you weren’t hooked then not to worry about it – books are different to each readers’ taste and for some people the ebb and flow of familiarity and danger as FotR takes you from birthday parties, on to shadowy hunters etc works to draw you in but for others …

 

LotRFI Pt.57–Bilbo

Bilbo served as a vital link between H and LotR for me in my first reading. I loved Bilbo’s character in H and was curious to see what would happen to him in this new tale. I was surprised, then, when he quickly exited the stage and was replaced by Frodo. Nevertheless, Bilbo served a pivotal role. He was no longer the protagonist of the story; instead he was a patriarch, the figurehead at the beginning of a tradition. He preserved the Ring and passed it to Frodo. Now Frodo, and the reader by extension, must see the quest through to the end, if only for the sake of Bilbo. This was very clear to me in my first reading.

The idea of the quest of the Ring as an inheritance from Bilbo is emphasized in the Council of Elrond. Bilbo volunteers for the quest:

‘Very well, very well, Master Elrond…It is plain enough what you are pointing at. Bilbo the silly hobbit started this affair, and Bilbo had better finish it, or himself’ (FR, II, ii, 269).

He is turned down and the quest falls, instead, to his heir, Frodo.

bilbo
Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Bilbo functions to keep the reader motivated throughout LotR. I would argue that this is especially true of younger readers who were particularly invested in him in H. I know it was certainly true for me. I wanted to see what happened to this ring that Bilbo collected and that brought doom to the world. It was important to me that Bilbo was not implicated in anything so heinous.

Perhaps this post is a bit unexpected, especially here in the midst of the story’s conclusion. I have good reason for putting it here, though. Bilbo continues to serve as this important motivator for younger readers even through the end of the tale. When the hobbits revisit Rivendell, he is there to catch up on the adventure and to demonstrate how much the world has changed. Not only has the age of Men begun, but the age of children’s tales is fading, much like Bilbo himself.

Finally, this theme is enacted as Bilbo travels to the ships to sail west. Frodo finally comes to an even footing with his mentor after completing the quest which the one bequeaths the other. They part the world at the same moment, and this serves to bookend both LotR and H.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Shire, and then to the Grey Havens.

What Do You Think?

Did you see Bilbo as a structural element in your first reading?
Did you expect to see Bilbo as much in LotR? Did you expect to see him more?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!