Robert Steed’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (176)

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 Robert Steed’s responses:


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

As far as I remember, I was first introduced to Tolkien in the third grade when the teacher started reading a chapter from The Hobbit during reading time each day. While I remember enjoying that, it did not move me to engage with Tolkien then. It was not until middle school when I read The Lord of the Rings that I started to really enjoy and engage with Tolkien’s work on a more sustained basis.

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

I am sure this is a common response, but it is difficult to identify a single favorite part. What my favorite is seems to shift from day to day, from season to season, from age to age, and from mood to mood. That said, parts which I always enjoy are the Ainulindale, Akallabeth, “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit, “The Council of Elrond” from LoTR, and “On Fairy Stories.” I could add a great deal more, but then the list would become absurd. It would probably be briefer and easier to list what I do not enjoy.

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

Not too long ago, I would have said that my fondest experience was when I was simply discovering the legendarium for the first time and starting to plumb its depths. More recently, since I started organizing a small conference and participating in various Tolkien groups, I find that sharing Tolkien’s work and having the chance to learn from others in congenial settings is creating my new fondest experience(s).

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

Certainly it has. As a teenager I read it primarily for the fantasy elements and the action sequences. Since then, my attention has shifted much more to the relational and interpersonal aspects of Tolkien’s work, with a particular interest in the philosophical, metaphysical, and religious underpinnings and themes of it. The attention he devotes to meditating upon the nature of mortality throughout his legendarium has proven to be deeply meaningful for me. There is a strong phenomenological dimension to Tolkien’s work as well, both academic and literary, and that is fascinating. I also pay more attention to the potentially problematic aspects of both Tolkien’s legendarium and his scholarship. Tolkien is a genius, but not beyond criticism; I do not think he would accept being idolized.

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

Yes, I would and do recommend it, but gently. Tolkien’s work is deceptive in a way; the fiction can be read purely at the level of story/plot, but of course the reader does not have to stay at that level. There’s always layers of possible interpretation below the surface and beyond the plot. It’s like an onion centered within a Ptolemaic universe—-layers upon layers, wheels circling above circling wheels. Tolkien seems to have thought about and to care about everything, from the smallest seemingly trivial detail of plot to the structure of language to the nature of love and evil, all the way to abstract metaphysics and ontology. Taken as a whole, there is literally something in his work for everyone.

TEP #39 — Elizabeth King

For this episode, Sarah talked with a researcher who looks at Tolkien’s works through a lens of trauma studies: Elizabeth King!

Elizabeth is a PhD student and Graduate Research assistant at the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia. Her information page on the university site says that she is currently working “on projects related to developing ecologically responsive multi-component systemic interventions for populations exposed to mass traumas.” This approach informs her reading. We were so glad she could talk with us!

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!

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

Matt’s (Nerd of the Rings) Experience — Tolkien Experience Project 175

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 Matt’s responses:


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

I was a freshman in college in 2002. That very month, Fellowship of the Ring was released on DVD. My best friend and roommate, on our initial trip to the local Walmart suggested we buy a couple movies, including FOTR. My response? “I don’t know. That looks kinda dumb.” He convinced me to give it a shot, and the rest is history. I was hooked. By the time we see the Argonath, I was in complete awe of Middle-earth. I HAD to know more! As the credits rolled I turned to my friend with indignation, “Is that how it ends?! Is there another movie?!” Needless to say, I was now a LOTR fan.

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

The sheer size and scope of the world he created is incredible. I love that you can study and research Middle-earth and its events as if it were actual history. The themes are timeless and universal. The characters are varied, memorable, and compelling. The land itself is iconic and a place I’m happy to escape to anytime.

If you’re looking for an answer of a specific book, I love them all! For a fun, casual read, I will pick up the adventures of my favorite hobbit, Bilbo, in The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings is classic and can’t be omitted from my list. However, I am a big fan of Children of Húrin – an incredible, albeit tragic tale worthy of its better-known counterparts.

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

There are so many. As a father, sharing Midde-earth with my young children through reading The Hobbit to them and playing the LEGO video games is such great fun. Guiding my kids to becoming readers and fellow nerds is a pretty great “dad win”.

More recently, the wonderful interactions I’ve had with countless Tolkien fans through my Nerd of the Rings YouTube channel has been an incredible experience. It’s gotten far bigger, far quicker than I ever imagined and I’m so thankful to be able to share our love of Middle-earth among such excellent and admirable hobbits!

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

Yes and no. Since rushing out to buy the boxed set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings after seeing The Two Towers film, it’s been a steady dive, deeper and deeper into the lore. The only thing that has changed is that I now research not just for my own curiosity, but also so I can create videos to share my love of Tolkien with others on the channel.

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

Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! Middle-earth is a world that has no equal – and likely never will. No matter who you are or where you come from, you will likely find something to enjoy in Tolkien’s world. It is simply incredible.

On a personal note, my friend who introduced me to LOTR tragically passed away in a car accident back in 2004. It was my times spent in Middle-earth (and Harry Potter), that helped give me a break from those hard days. Anytime I’ve experienced hardships or tragedy, I know I can take a respite by going to Middle-earth and allow myself some healing time. In my opinion, there is no better place to escape to than the world which Tolkien has gifted us.


You can find more from Matt on his YouTube channel!

Serena’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (174)

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 Serena’s responses:


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

I was first introduced to Tolkien’s work when The Lord of The Rings films came out, but it wasn’t until The Hobbit films came out that I actually started paying attention to the books. I fell in love short after.

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

There are two things that come to mind when thinking about this question. The first is the way the books are written. I feel understood when I read Tolkien’s books, like my emotions and experiences are tied to those of the amazingly well written characters, as if I myself were part of the story. Every word is so perfectly placed, I can’t help but feel like Tolkien’s writing is as close prose can get to music and poetry. I find there is something profoundly sentimental about Tolkien’s works, not just in the adventures, but in how these are described.

The second is the work he put into creating a world for his languages – I have always been amazed by the fact that was the order of creation, not the other way around. This denotes such a passionate interest, and as someone who is interested in languages, it makes me wish I could go back in time and be one of his students.

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

The fondest experience I have of Tolkien’s works are all related to The Hobbit, films (oddly) and book. I was in a really bad place mentally, when The Hobbit films came out – I was a teenager struggling with depression, desperately looking for a way out of a home and situation that was more or less destroying my spirit. Not long after the last film in The Hobbit trilogy came out, when I was 18, one of my closest friends died unexpectedly and I found myself completely alone. At that point, I got attached to a world and characters that felt like they could understand me: desperately trying to belong somewhere, and seemingly always failing. This brought me relief, knowing that someone out there knew what I was going through.

This feeling only strengthened once I started reading the book, when I found that I could also find comfort in Tolkien’s actual words. It seemed to me like each and every word I was reading was a brick that I could use to build myself the home I never had. I find it really difficult to explain how his words make me feel, so I hope that the metaphor clears it up a little bit.

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

It’s been a very eventful few years since I was first introduced to his works, but each time I go back to them (mostly to the films, they are just that little bit quicker to get through), something feels just slightly different. I think the biggest difference I have noticed, while re-reading The Hobbit and re-watching the trilogies this Christmas, is that I have felt happy to be part of them, as opposed to feeling a strong need to be understood and included in them. I have also felt a lot more inspired by them to go and do something meaningful with my life, to put my creativity towards those projects that I have dreamt about, but that I have never found the motivation to actually start.

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

I tend not to show the “Tolkien fan” side of myself to anyone that I am not close to, but I have gifted The Silmarillion to a close friend after reading it, because I just found it so interesting that I couldn’t keep it to myself. I would also say my partner is probably sick of hearing me talk about Tolkien’s books. Unfortunately, I am not friends with many readers, and all the other people I am close to have already watched the films. However, if the situation presented itself, I would definitely recommend all of it – books, films, histories, all of it.

TEP #38 — Anna Smol

For this episode, Sara was able to sit down with her good friend and veteran Tolkien academic: Anna Smol!

Anna is currently a professor in the Department of English at Mount Saint Vincent University. She has also served as an adjunct faculty member in the graduate English program at Dalhousie University and in the Joint M.A. in Women and Gender Studies (Saint Mary’s University and Mount Saint Vincent). Her research interests include Tolkien studies, medievalism, and Old English, and she has published her work in many refereed journals.

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!

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

Alastair’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (173)

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 Alastair’s responses:


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

I was about 6. We were just about to move house and it was a very traumatic time for me. My dad bought a copy of Lord of the Rings and started reading it to me. I got frustrated because he was taking too long (hardly surprising 1000+ pages takes a while to read!) This prompted me to start reading it myself. A few years later I became obsessed with the Bakshi film and the computer game of The Hobbit.

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

In the books, I love the early, disconnected Tom Bombadil parts. I have never found Tolkien’s battle descriptions particularly enthralling. More of a retelling of a history than an exciting account. However, both Bakshi and Jackson did make great and stirring versions of Helm’s Deep.

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

Reading the journey to Weathertop with my Dad. Him putting on silly voices for all the hobbits.

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

As I grew and developed my tastes in literature I would often revisit Tolkien. I found his writing a little dry at times. More of a history book than a narrative. As a child I just could not get into The Silmarillion at all. When comparing him to other early fantasy writers such as Robert E Howard I initially found his characters and dialogue bland and the action dull. However, as a teacher who uses Dungeons and Dragons as a way of motivating often disaffected students it is difficult to underestimate the world he has created.

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

I do. With reservations. Tolkien takes time and effort to appreciate. Many readers are turned off by the slower burn style of story telling. Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion take a lot more effort than The Hobbit. The language is dating and not always accessible to younger readers. The worlds and situations have not. The films and media exposure helps, as does the rise in popularity in fantasy role playing games. I often recommend his work to literature students keen on fantasy.

Laurie’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (172)

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 Laurie’s responses:


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

I was actually just out of college and checking out my local library before a trip on an audiobook. I just went through The Hobbit right before a road trip, and decided to check it out! I’ve heard they were good, so I decided to have a listen while on the road. There were a lot of times in my personal life when I related to Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit, even when I’m not exactly following his footsteps. Wanting to go on an adventure, while also desiring the comforts of home, and going back and forth between his desires were what stood out to me as relatable. And after finding out The Lord of the Rings was its sequel, for me it was like watching an awesome Netflix show! One book came another. And then another. Especially in audiobook form.

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

I like how descriptive his writing style is. I know a lot of people have issue with how he spends 5 pages talking about a tree, for example, but for me it captures the essence of the book. It’s not that I don’t have to pay attention to the words I’m reading, but it makes it easier to relate to the setting and characters in the story. He also tends to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality, by having a sort of “magic” element in his stories while still having them be relatable to the reader in some way.

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

Meeting other readers, listening to podcasts, and reading his letters and exploring his short stories from Tales from the Perilous Realm. They are very interesting as it’s always fun to discuss his works and how literature in general influences our lives.

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

Since it’s only been a few years, I wouldn’t say it has changed too much. But lately I’ve been focusing more on details of his life, as well as mythological and philological details. When I started it was all about the story, the hobbits, and how I related to them. Now it has been more about the meanings, works, faith and what could have influenced his writing.

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

Absolutely! I tend to give a lot of his books as gifts. His works have taught us a lot of things, like exploring the concept of a home and fighting through adversities. I also like the powerful connections his works show with the Catholic faith and his experiences with it. It’s pretty cool how stories can help tell your experiences.


You can read more from Laurie on her blog!

TEP #37 — Mariana Rios Maldonado

For this episode, I had the opportunity to speak with my good friend and brilliant Tolkien scholar: Mariana Rios Maldonado!

Mariana is a PhD student at the University of Glasgow where she is interested in ethics, feminist theory, and encountering the Other in Tolkien’s works. She received a grant from Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (National Council for Science and Technology, CONACyT) and Fundación INBA (National Foundation for Fine Arts and Literature) in Mexico for her studies. She also serves as the Equality and Diversity Officer for the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic. In addition to all of her engagement with the University of Glasgow, she also holds a position on the Editorial Review Board of Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society.

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!

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

Aidan Wotherspoon’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (171)

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 Aidan Wotherspoon’s responses:


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

I was always aware that The Hobbit existed as a book as long as I could remember, but my first experience actually consuming the story was a local theatrical production of The Hobbit, then that Christmas I was given a one-volume set of the sequel trilogy. This was in the year 2000 and so I soon found out they were making a movie and Magneto was playing Gandalf

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

There are two interpretations of this question, and I want to answer them both. The literal interpretation: my favourite passages in the corpus of Tolkien’s work can be found in the back-to-back chapters of book five of Lord of the Rings: ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’ and ‘The Battle of Pelennor Fields’, when everything crescendoes into this one big clash, it has poetic descriptions of glorious battle, humble and brave deeds of Hobbits and unwanted but devoted followers. The history of barrow blades and ancient battles of the Valar, and the emotional turmoil of kinsmen and kinswoman fallen in battle before the sudden arrival of friends who’ve passed through shadow and darkness. There’s nothing quite like it in any story I’ve read before or since.

Thematically, I am very inspired by the themes of hope and friendship in the face of darkness and despair that run throughout the work. We all have to live in Arda marred, and the characters of Tolkien remind us that day shall come again, the darkness is only a passing thing, and that friends will stand by friends through thick and thin to the bitter end.

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

During the plague of 2020 when the world was in lockdown and I was laid off. I read aloud the entirety of The Lord of the Rings on Facebook Live. The act of reading it aloud was very rewarding in and of itself to appreciate the poetry of a philologist’s writing. I also got many good wishes from my friends and family that tuned in. I must also give an honourable mention to my family’s annual Christmas rewatch of the film trilogy.

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

I think it’s more accurate to say that Tolkien’s work has changed my life, which in turn has changed how I approach Tolkien’s work. When I was 15 I looked at every word of The Silmarillion, but I never quite felt like I had “read” it until, after attending University and grappling with numerous historical texts and academic papers, I became used to reading through and understanding difficult material and I was able to revisit the Elder Days with more ease than I could have thought possible. Recognizing Sindar and Quenya roots in proper nouns in the legendarium by reading the glossaries of The Silmarillion primed me for learning Greek and Latin and barely going a day without pondering the history of tongues.

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

Despite being an atheist, I treat the works of Tolkien’s legendarium as a sacred text and I am prepared to evangelize it to anyone ready to listen.

Krista’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (170)

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 Kristaand 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 a 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 Krista’s responses:


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

As a pre-teen in 1970 I swiped a paperback box set from my older brother’s room when he came home from military service for a visit. He had the coolest things and that was the greatest thing I could have ever taken from him. That set, plus a later purloined book from him, The Hobbit, gave me hours of joy as I tramped along the path with our trusty Hobbit and company.

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

Oh, the Elves! It was enthralling that such a world existed. I’d dream of spending time in a flet with them, meeting Gandalf and Galadriel.

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

My mother bought me The Silmarillion for Christmas, I think in 1972. I may have hounded her for a copy, it sounds like something I would do. But when I opened that package – oh my god, it had a map even! I remember my delight. That is, until I found how HARD it actually was to read at that age! Memories: Saving my brothers old used calendars by the Brothers Hildebrant; stumbling onto a used VCR tape of Bakshi’s version of The Lord of the Ring; a friend giving me The Tolkien Companion. And finally, seeing the movies brought to such vibrant life.

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

Yes, after having first read the books 50 years ago I think I’ve become more analytical as opposed to reading for the sheer joy of it, although that is there as well. I find myself pausing in a chapter to consult maps or genealogies (thank you onering.net) to clarify my readings.

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

I do recommend to everyone to read it once because, well it’s not only a beautiful story, there are timeless themes there on love and loss, and important life lessons “…even the smallest hands can do important works”, etc. scattered throughout.