LotRFI Pt.52–Frodo

I have waited this long to address Frodo as a character because he was one of the most difficult characters for me to understand in my first reading. While the narration often seems to hover around Frodo, it was never clear to me what his motivations were or how he was truly feeling, especially in Book VI.

Image copyright John Howe

Frodo was my least favorite of the hobbits when I first read LotR. I found him very difficult to identify with because he seemed more focused than the other hobbits and, generally, kept his gaze toward greater concerns than the others. In a way, it strikes me now, Frodo is a more adult figure than the other hobbits. While he is not on the level of the Big People with his knowledge and experience, he is more mature and worldly than any of the hobbits, or at least he acts that way. I never liked Frodo’s character very much because he struck me as the patient sufferer, a role I never have been able to relate to; I have often been accused of not suffering fools gladly.

Even though this is the case, I still respected him greatly for the role he plays in destroying the Ring. When I heard others contend that Sam, not Frodo, was the true hero of LotR, I was defensive immediately. Frodo carries a burden unique from the rest of the Fellowship. I understood that distinction instantly, and felt that awarding the title of hero to anyone else was demeaning that burden. While I admired Frodo and thought him the true hero of the story, I could not see much of myself in him.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To Mount Doom, then to think about Sauron and the nature of Evil in LotR​.

What Do You Think?

How did you first read Frodo as a character?
How did he compare to the other hobbits?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Brad Thompson’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (49)

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 Brad 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 Brad Thompson’s responses:

How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was first introduced to Tolkein’s work when I was nine years old, so I would be in year five at my junior school in Sheffield, England. I was told by my teacher to read this book as it was a fantastic book to read and that I would get lots out of it. When I flipped through the pages the very first time I picked it up, I realised there were little or no pictures, and this was going to be a huge problem for me, because even though I was nine years old and had the reading age of an average fifteen year old, I always had issues with my imagination. Basically, I’ve never been able to turn written text into an image in my head. However, I persevered and forced myself to read the whole book.

I did not enjoy it. And that was such a shame because there were parts of it that I liked but without the illustrations and without being able to fully picture what was going on in the story I couldn’t really can appreciate the book for what it was. And so, it would be another seven or eight years before I took up my interest in anything to do with Tolkein’s work. Fast forward to the year 2003, and I decided, with my friends, to play The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on the PlayStation 2, which I absolutely adored. Then, I decided that I needed to watch the films, so I watched the first two films on DVD and the final film, The Return of The King I went to see the pictures, on New Year’s Eve 2003, and it was absolutely brilliant.

Fast forward another nine years or 10 years, and The Hobbit films came out, where I then found a YouTube Channel, The One Ring. Net, and began to watch all their shows surrounding all things Middle-earth, and obviously, the build up to the release of The Hobbit films. And so, I decided to read all the books from the very beginning. I started by reading The Hobbit, again, which I loved, and now I didn’t have to picture that much in my head because I already knew the characters and many parts of Middle-earth in my head, because of the films and also knew that I would be going to the pictures to see the film and so I would see what was in the book anyway. Now I could fully appreciate the text, and I can’t wait to read it to my son.

From there in 2015, I decided to read The Silmarillion, with the aid of Rob Shaw and the audiobook, it is the best thing I have ever read, and may ever read. And now, I have read The Lord of the Rings, and so I will look to the future to read the Unfinished Tales, The Lost Tales and all the other works in Tolkein’s legendarium.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

My favourite part of Tolkein’s work would have to be Fingolfin’s challenge to Morgoth. Fingolfin from the very beginning proved that he was a completely, utterly fantastic character. Before the Noldor left Valinor, Fingolfin stood up to his brother Feanor, who drew his sword, without the use of force or aggression. In that moment he proved that he was steadfast, was strong mentally, and had a heart made of something else. When he chose to follow his brother, he showed that he was loyal to him and his father’s house, and all of the Noldor and the rest of the elves and the blessed realm could follow him one day as the High King of the Noldor because of those qualities which he displayed in that moment.

When it came to the battle with Morgoth, Fingolfin proved to all in Arda that Morgoth was not invincible. He proved that Morgoth could be wounded and that he had weaknesses, and that he could be beaten. His splendour was simply beautiful, from the horse ride to the gates of Angband, to his shining sword and shield in the fight, and even his death, was rather spectacular, if not rather heartbreaking. Fingolfin’s life and final fight showed that the curse of the Noldor, through the Oath of Feanor, was something that was not present in all of the Noldor, and that they were prepared to take a stand with their kin.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

My fondest experience of tokens work has actually yet to come, as it will be the experience of listening to my children read The Hobbit (and other Tolkien works) to me. Interestingly, my son a couple of years ago, helped me on a few co-op levels on LEGO The Hobbit game for the PlayStation 3, and forever will those memories stay with me, not just because it was my son and he was playing the LEGO The Hobbit game with me, but because he was actually just so good at it and he loved it so much. After Christmas this year I will read the graphic novel of The Hobbit to my son who is now five and then next year I will read with him The Hobbit. He is almost a fluent reader so I expect him to be able to read it, and I very much look forward to being able to listen to him, and this is also the same for my second son who is younger. The only other thing that could delight me is if my wife suddenly decides to watch the films with me and become a fan. But I doubt this will ever happen.

However, my fondest experience so far would have to be meeting Sylvester McCoy and John Rhys Davies at Sheffield ComicCon 2014. Fortunately I was lucky enough to meet them both and in particular John was a complete joy and pleasure to speak to. He asked me in great detail about my work as a primary school teacher which led him to write a wonderful message on a photograph of him dressed as Gimli, which I will treasure forever. On the photograph he wrote “Children! Behave! Listen to Mr. Thompson as he is wise, smart and will make you better people…” We spoke for a good 20 minutes while there was nobody else coming to see him and I just felt that I was talking to somebody who was just a wonderful person, as well as being an amazing actor.

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

The way in which I approach Tolkein’s work has changed over the last few years, and may continue to change. Tolkein’s works started out as a hobby, something that I was interested in but didn’t really take that seriously. However, now I would say that I take it more seriously. So for me, the seriousness of which I approach his works has gone up to a level which I did not think that it would ever go to, because I didn’t think that I would love it as much as what I have come to love it. For me, that means that now I have read the books, I used to religiously watch TOR.N on YouTube, I listen regularly to The Prancing Pony Podcast, and now I have joined The Tolkein Society and will go to Tolkein 2019.

Moreoever, as a primary school teacher I wish I could do more to teach Tolkein’s work, in particular The Hobbit, in schools so that children get this fantastic experience of something which I didn’t quite have as a child. And actually, because I couldn’t engage with it when I was young, makes me more motivated to pass it on – for me as a teacher, I know how to be able to teach Tolkein’s work to children so that they too can access something which many may never have thought they would before. Whether it’s children like me who struggled with big chunks of text and little imagination, if schools don’t teach it, or the fact that some children who think it isn’t cool – I know that there are so many children out there who I could engage with who otherwise wouldn’t have. Also, sadly, I think parents show the films to their children, and they never consider or forget the literature. So the second part of my approach to Tokein’s work would be to be able to teach it to small children through the parents! I’d get them into The Hobbit too and then the children into all the ‘child-like-ways’, toys, games, videogames etc… so that they can become a lifelong Tolkein fan.

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

In all honesty, I recommend Tolkein to anyone and everyone, even when they have told me that they are never going to be a fan. I can’t help myself but tell everybody how much I love his work and how fantastic it is and that they must read the books, they must listen to the audiobook, they must listen to The Prancing Pony Podcast, they must join The Tolkein Society, and they must do all these things that I have just started to do with the last couple of years because it is just so fantastic. I tell everybody all the time and I will continue to tell them.

Although, I love having better knowledge than all my friends and I’ve been able to tell them and teach him things I didn’t know, but have now learned. For example, getting them to know more about Balrogs in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for example. Finally, the one thing I really love about Tolkein’s works is having the potential for an amazing in-depth discussion over the characters, their motives, events that happen, what could’ve happened, what should’ve happened, and how it would’ve played out if I’d been a character, or even how I would’ve played out if I had written the parts or even a book as part of the legendarium. These kinds of thoughts are something that go round my head a lot and I like sharing these with all my friends, and anyone who will listen.


LotRFI Pt.51–Cirith Ungol

Book VI was very different from anything I remember reading before it. The brooding darkness of Mordor sat on every page, and the malaise of the place seemed to imbue itself into me as I read. I remember wishing that I could read about Gondor again and feeling slighted that I was left uncertain as to the outcome of the battle at the Black Gate. Frodo and Sam seemed like two very unlikely heroes in this setting, surrounded by darkness and so vastly outnumbered that their quest seemed impossible; however, I am getting ahead of myself.

Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

The Tower of Cirith Ungol was a pinnacle of Frodo and Sam’s journey. Here I experienced Sam’s meta-moments again, his commentary on how good always shines out among the darkness. I have felt this passage keenly in subsequent readings. In my first readings, though, it seemed like wishful thinking. Sam projecting what he wants to be true on his physical surroundings instead of observing what is verifiable in the moment.

This made his song that much more awe-inspiring to me. In the face of utter defeat, Sam sings a song of courage and fortitude. This took my breath away. The fact that this song is what helps him find Frodo was mind-bending to me. I would have said that it was far too coincidental, if I believed that coincidence was possible in Middle-earth at the time. I already knew that coincidence was just another word for fate, or destiny, in this story. I believed that there was a purpose or reason (perhaps these descriptors should be capitalized, but I am no theologian) behind the events of the story, and that was the only reason why I did not feel the plot a bit forced here.

As a side-note: the escape from Cirith Ungol and the trudge across Mordor have the unenviable designation as those passages that I remember least from my first reading. In fact, I did not realize that a Wraith descends upon Cirith Ungol until a second reading.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Let’s take a look at Frodo, then Mount Doom!

What Do You Think?

What was your impression of the Mordor scenes?
What was your favorite scene from the Tower of Cirith Ungol?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Caity M.’s–Tolkien Experience Project (48)

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 Caity 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 Caity M.’s responses:

How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was introduced to Tolkien’s work because of the production of the Peter Jackson films. I was 11 in December, 2001 when the first film was released, and my best friend/neighbor’s older brother was excited for the films, because he was a book reader. He was a few years older than us, and because I was 11 and he was a cool teenager, I got interested too. I remember vaguely having conversations with him about Tolkien after seeing the first film; he told me that the Lord of the Rings barely scratched the surface of all there was to know about Middle-earth. I remember him saying something about the relationship between Sauron and Morgoth, for example. I was immediately intrigued; I had read and loved Harry Potter around the same time in my life, but that sense of depth hinted at when he told me about Morgoth was different than what Rowling seemed (at the time – I suppose she has tried more myth building since then) to be doing, and was exciting. I began the first book before I watched the first film, and had finished them all by the time the second film was released. I have since read Hobbit, Silmarillion, some of his scholarship, some other stories like Wootton Major and Roverandom, a few Lost Tales (although I’m saving up for History of Middle Earth), and dipped my toe into his languages.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I think its his writing about nature, and his recommendations for how to enter into right relationship with the parts of earth over which humanity has dominion, if I’m gonna get Christian about it. I’ve been doing a lot of rereading in the Tolkien world recently, since the Fall of Gondolin came out this summer, and his writing about animals and landscape does make me feel religious, if I’m being honest with myself, especially in the context of that recent report on climate change. The passages where Gandalf describes his relationship with Shadowfax are really sticking in my mind as of late.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I worked for many summers at an all girls sleepaway summer camp in North Carolina. It’s tucked away in the Blue Ridge mountains, a few thousand feet up, on a lake at the foot of a bald rock mountain we call Old Bald. The camp itself caters to the children of serious, generational southern money. Country Club families from Buckhead in Atlanta and Mountainbrook in Birmingham etc. send their daughters there, because their mothers and grandmothers and aunts all went there too. The campers all go to the same private schools, and rush the same sororities when they go to college. Its an extremely white and privileged place. By no means did I grow up in want, and I am also white, but that camp introduced me to a rung on the tax bracket that I had never seen before, and it was an integral step down the rabbit hole of left wing politics I have fallen into, but I digress. I tended to seek out and try to support the outcast girls, the nerdy ones, because camp could be a brutally lonely place for those more bookish or introverted campers. I absolutely saw my younger self in them, and I myself wasn’t exactly embraced with open arms by the other staff; I had never been a camper there. There was a camper once with very serious ADHD, who many counselors got easily annoyed with, myself included. But one day, after a few summers of getting to know her, I realized she was a fledgling Tolkien reader. We would chat about the books often, which we both really enjoyed. She found my address in the camp bulletin and sent me a drawing she had done of the Durin’s Door illustration from Fellowship. I feel so lucky she sent me that.

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

Without a doubt. I find something new to love with each rereading. I’ve developed a much deeper appreciation for Tolkien’s work, and have a much more difficult time with the racism and sexism of the world he created. I was young when I entered Middle-earth, but I ended up getting a Master’s in Medieval Studies, and as you can imagine, that is a context in which I got to talk a lot of Tolkien very often, with people who have become very good friends. It was a treat! It has also deepened my understanding of the scholastic context from which Tolkien wrote, for better and for worse. As I’ve been rereading recently, and as my own politics have moved towards the centrality of redressing systemic, historical patterns of racism and sexism, all of Tolkien’s imagery depicting the dark eyed, dark skinned hordes make me shudder, especially as the tide of global fascism rises around us. Colonization seems to be given a pass at times in Tolkien, and even his cardinal directions seem racist! North and West, good! East and South? Bad. I struggle a lot with how much of a pass I want to give Tolkien, and men like him more generally. Lets call it the problematic fave conundrum. Is Tolkien a product of his time? Absolutely, and maybe even better than most of that time. Is he worth reading? For me, still of course, yes. Do I understand that his project was inherently focused on a mythology of the British Isles? Sure, ok, fine. However Tolkien’s integral place among the racist and xenophobic history of medieval scholarship and fantasy literature is a stumbling block for me, and the adoption of the Tolkien Legendarium by the worst elements of online racists both breaks my heart, and is something for which I struggle to find a working defense. Of course they love him! Its painfully easy to see why.

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

With reservations, yes, because of how foundational they have been in my life. I can’t imagine my life without loving Tolkien, but it gets harder every day, honestly, due to the context I lay out in my previous answer.

You can follow Caity M. on Twitter for more of her excellent thoughts on Tolkien and other topics!

LotRFI Pt.50–The Last Stand

This part of the text has an odd place in my recollection. I remember thinking about how each man who took part in this march was remarkably brave, and how I could relate to the men whom Aragorn allowed to turn back and accomplish a lesser deed because their valor faltered. I cannot remember a time when I felt as much tension or anticipation for the battle before the Black Gates as I did for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Honestly, the largest part of this campaign that I remember is Pippin’s experience in the final battle. His narrative voice as the battle begins, and then the way his story is obscured by unconsciousness reminded me of Bilbo. This was especially true when the Eagles appear and Pippin claims that they were

‘in [Bilbo’s] tale, long long ago’ (RK, V, x, 893).

Just over the precipice of such a great battle, the narration cuts short and leaves much to the reader’s imagination. It is not until several chapters later that a recap of this battle is given, and in a very detached manner (except for the emotional asides from the tellers). Not only is this a trick of narrative to add suspense, but it puts Pippin squarely in the Bilbo-like (Bilboian? Bilboic?) role, which was significant in my first reading.

Image copyright John Howe

Aside from this one aspect, the other parts of this chapter were less engrossing to me than the previous chapters. I followed Aragorn’s logic, and I thought that he led his campaign well, I just had a difficult time investing in these events. I think that part of my lack of investment is because I did not believe that they would die—this is probably in large part because I realized that half the book remained ahead of me, and I had no knowledge that the narrative would jump over and follow Frodo and Sam for much of the next book.

On a positive note, I really enjoyed the interaction between Sauron’s messenger and Aragorn/Gandalf. Their acerbic back-and-forth and posturing was very interesting to me.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Into Book VI with Frodo and Sam!

What Do You Think?

What was your impression of these passages and what did you think of the Mouth of Sauron?
​Did you connect Pippin and Bilbo?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Paul Mitchener’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (47)

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 Paul 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 Paul Mitchener’s responses:

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

There were two, maybe three stages. The first stage was The Hobbit being read to me when I was 8 or so at school, back in the early 1980s. About a year later, my grandfather recommended him to me, and I read The Hobbit on my own and The Fellowship of the Ring. For some reason, he only had the first volume of Lord of the Rings, though I reread Fellowship several times. When I was first at a new school when I was 11, almost the very first thing I did was go to the library, and notice they had the rest of the Lord of the Rings. I devoured them over the next few evenings.

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

Who’s your favourite child? More seriously, this is one of those answers which changes over time, and with each reading. I love Bilbo’s growth in The Hobbit from bumbling fish out of water to being a crafty hero, the way the world is revealed to the readers at the same time it is to the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, and the tragic grandeur of The Silmarillon.

And there are so many good individual moments. In Lord of the Rings for example, the charge of the Rohirrim on the Pelennor Fields, and Treebeard’s interactions with Merry and Pippin stannd out for me at the moment. If I’m going to answer just one thing, I’ll choose the sheer depth of Tolkein’s work, the way every piece of the landscape has character and history. There’s nothing else like it in fiction.

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

I moved a little away from Tolkien in my early twenties, but seriously reconnected later. There were the movies, but in the wake of the movies I listened to the BBC radio play of Lord of the Rings for the first time, and of course reread the books. And I was struck anew by the great depths, and the sheer mythic reality of Middle-earth. In particular, I seriously appreciated The Silmarillion more than I ever had when I was younger, but it was not only The Silmarillion which felt new to me again.

And there have been other periods of rediscovery. In particular, I recently really enjoyed a group slow read of Lord of the Rings, with a mix of people very familiar with Tolkien and those with less experience.

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

Definitely. Even after the first reading, on subsequent rereads I tended to rush through everything, enjoying the technicolour movie playing out in my brain. Later I started to dwell on the imagined world, drawing out connections between different parts of Middle-earth, and pondering questions such as “what happened to Radagast?” and “where did the Entwives go?” looking for clues in the text.

Most lately, I’m trying to go more slowly, dwelling on each part of the narrative as it comes, not rushing ahead to what comes next, and trying not to use my knowledge of what comes next to inform the present. I’m also engaging more with some of the thematic elements. Tolkien warned us against allegory, but also emphasised that applicability is something different.

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

Certainly! Tolkien’s work is the deepest work of fantasy out there, and there’s nothing else like it.

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have biases about what Tolkien is and is not, informed by popular culture. I’d urge them to forget their biases, especially when it comes to what they think of as “Tolkienesque fantasy”, a term which misleads us about Tolkien’s depth, and engage with the original. It’s fun and something to lose oneself in. One can go as deep as one desires, or just enjoy the world, the story, and the characters.

If you want more thoughts from Paul Mitchener, you can find him on G+!

LotRFI Pt.49–At The Houses of Healing

I really enjoyed the passages which take place among the members of the Fellowship in the Houses of Healing because they are like the chapter “Many Meetings.” There are many old friends who come together and catch up on what the others have been doing since they were last in each other’s company. The humor that arises here is reminiscent of the joviality that overtakes them sitting in the rubble at Isengard.

One of the most memorable passages for me comes from these sections. Merry apologizes for speaking to Aragorn in the wrong tone, saying:

‘it is the way of my people to use light words at such times and say less than they mean. We fear to say too much. It robs us of the right words when a jest is out of place’ (RK, V, viii, 870).

Merry’s words struck home in this reader, and this is one of the phrases that I stored away to use when necessary. To keep a long story short, I was quite tactless as a child, more so than other children, and I frequently said the wrong thing or diverted attention with an awkward or untimely joke. My sense of social awkwardness found expression here.

Image copyright Anke Eissmann

Another interesting observation to make of these passages is that I made a rather meaningful thematic observation, but I am unsure how. I will have to do a bit of digging to find out why, but I somehow knew the fact that Aragorn could heal people was a very good sign. I had a sense, albeit not a well-formed sense, that rulers being healers was a metaphor for something. I, of course, had no concept of the trope of the king who heals the land until much later.

A final consideration from the Houses of Healing is the relationship that forms here between Éowyn and Faramir. To be completely honest, this relationship baffled me for many years. It seemed to me that the relationship developed too quickly and I did not understand how these characters could be drawn together from such opposing perspectives. Again, reading Éowyn as an extension of myself, I thought that I would be mad at Faramir for presuming to know how I felt about anything, much less another person. This may largely be because one of the things I hated most as a child was being ‘talked down’ to. Perhaps I interpreted Faramir’s explanation of Éowyn’s feelings as condescending (and not in the good, medieval sense).

Where Do We Go From Here?

The Last Stand, then on to Book VI!

What Do You Think?

Which part of the Houses of Healing was your favorite? why?
How did you, or do you, interpret the relationship between Éowyn and Faramir?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Marie Prosser’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (46)

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 Marie 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 Marie Prosser’s responses:

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

Honestly, my first introduction to Tolkien’s work was the Rankin/Bass Hobbit and Return of the King films, which my family had copies of on VHS, and I did read The Hobbit as a middle school student. None of this was particularly memorable, though, and I have to say that the Rankin/Bass Return of the King barely spoiled the books at all ;). I read The Lord of the Rings when I was 12, and that was what began a lifelong love of Tolkien’s work.

How it happened was like this: The summer before seventh grade, I wanted to read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, but for whatever reason, could not find a copy of it at the library. So, I was going through the bookshelf in my parent’s office (the one that had their old college textbooks on it), and was quite pleased to find a selection of novels that included the Jules Verne book. Next to it was the Ballantine paperback copies of Lord of the Rings, which I was not overly excited about at the time. But after I finished the book I wanted, I did eventually pick them up. The covers were…not encouraging, to say the least, but I remembered liking The Hobbit, so. I of course enjoyed them immensely. I had reached Return of the King by Christmas break, and I remember I was supposed to be finishing an art project (a grid drawing of a bird). I sat at the bookshelf in my bedroom, and I would read a chapter, then work on the drawing, read a chapter…. I still have that drawing, and it reminds me of the first time I read the books. My mother got it framed for me, because she knew I liked it so much. I re-read the books for the first time in 9th grade, and then again in 10th grade. I don’t really re-read them any more, but that’s mostly because at this point I know them so well I don’t need to; I just look up passages when I want to.

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

I am most partial to The Silmarillion. I love that story, and what he did with creating such a poignant story where everyone fails but there’s still a hopeful ending. The Silmarillion hurts sometimes, but it is so beautiful and I love it.

The part of Tolkien’s writing I love the most is his love of trees and stars. I too love trees and stars, and at this point, it’s difficult for me to say whether I love these things because I read Tolkien, or if I love Tolkien because he shares my love of these things. It is not unusual for me to greet Orion (I mean Menelmacar) when I go outside at night, just as the elves Frodo met in the Shire do.

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

Oh, that’s an easy one! ALEP. A Long Expected Party is a Tolkien-themed event in the Shaker Village outside Lexington, Kentucky every three years. It is AMAZING and I love it very much. The people I’ve met there have become good friends. What kinds of friends? Well, I live with one of them; that’s where I met my roommate. I went on vacation with a bunch of them in June. And I’ve visited Banff and Calgary’s Stampede because one of them invited me to her place. I dated someone who also attends the event, which involved explaining to immigration how we met. So, yeah. It is dear to my heart and important to me and just amazing from so many points of view – hiking in the woods in costume, hanging out at a bonfire, recreating Bilbo’s birthday party, music and dancing, singing ‘Rolling Down the Hole’ at the top of my voice at 2 AM – you know, a good time! Oh, and I teach a Tengwar class there.

Second choice would be visiting Tolkien’s grave in Oxford. I sat next to it and had a nice long conversation, and then left a green stone that I’d brought with me.

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

Certainly. When I first read the book, I mostly just thought about it. I would close my eyes and picture the forests of Middle-earth, and my teacher would ask me if I was meditating. I did make some sketches, I suppose, but I didn’t really know how to engage with a book yet.

When I was in high school, I tackled the Appendices more seriously. I taught myself how to write in runes, and I would often doodle on my schoolwork in them. I would make copies of the runic alphabet for my friends, so they could read the messages I wrote. My boyfriend even wrote a font program so I could type in runes; the first thing I typed was ‘bright blue my jacket is and my boots are yellow.’ I wrote ‘A Elbereth Gilthoniel’ on the wall in the set room during the school musical. I checked Humphrey Carpenter’s biography out of the school library, and was saddened to learn that Tolkien died before I was born – I called a friend and told her that we weren’t even alive at the same time! [The Balantine books I’d read were printed in 1972 and had the ‘respect for living authors’ disclaimer on the back, so it was news to me.] I read The Silmarillion and disliked it. I told my sister about it, though, and she said she wanted to marry Finrod (or Ulmo). A friend lent me Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings after we’d wandered around talking about Tolkien’s work for hours. I also came across the artwork of the Brothers Hildebrandt; I liked Galadriel’s Mirror the best.

When I was in college, I took a slightly more academic approach. My geography class required me to go to the library every week to view videos, and while I was there, I would go up to the Tolkien section and check out a different book of literary criticism on him each week. I was largely disappointed. Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle-earth was the only one that actually taught me something new. I also read Letters and discovered what Tolkien’s opinion of a young American engineer was (that’s what I was at the time, so.) Luckily for me, I went on to take a few medieval history classes, so I likely wouldn’t have made the faux pas about feudalism. Whew! My college roommate (and best friend) learned Tengwar with me, and we wrote on each other’s notes during the classes we took together.

Then, the summer of ’99 was consumed by ‘So, did you hear they’re making a movie of Lord of the Rings?’ and I discovered online messageboards (my home was TORc, TheOneRing.com) Conveniently, Tolkien’s books were on my bookshelf, within reach of my computer, so I learned the ‘look it up!’ rule of answering questions in online discussions. My time there discussing Tolkien’s books in detail with other fans is most of the reason why I know Tolkien’s writing so well. I also decided to read the books aloud to my brothers in 2000. My youngest brother had requested The Hobbit when he was five, mostly because he liked Rankin/Bass’ Gollum, but now he was ten, so I thought he was ready for it. Each evening that summer, I would come home from work, swordfight with my brothers in the backyard using sticks, and then read Lord of the Rings to them after dinner. I drew them a sketch of Helm’s Deep (with labels!) so they could understand the battle and answered their questions as we went. It was a lot of fun, for me and them! I went on to recount most of the stories in The Silmarillion to my youngest brother while I was painting our parents’ living room. He would ask me questions, and I would tell him about First Age elves. I should not be terribly surprised that his middle school reading included Hamlet and The Silmarillion. He is still an avid reader to this day and loves fantasy; he’s currently trying to get me to read The Name of the Wind.

After college, my best friend made me a fleece cloak. It was a revelation to me that if the clothes you wanted to wear didn’t exist in the store to buy, you could make them yourself! I learned how to sew with my mother’s help, and made a dress with lacing on the back and a bodice. The bodice became part of my Hobbit costume and I still wear it. In 2004, I wrote my first fanfiction. It was about hobbits, and mostly nothing happened :P. I went on to write about Maedhros trapped in the Halls of Mandos and a young Elrond at the end of the First Age. I also read a lot of other people’s fanfiction and discovered another way to engage with Tolkien’s work. In fanfic, the whole point was to expand the story, to make your own choices and decisions about what these characters would do, what these places were like, how events unfold. Tolkien’s ‘unexplored vistas’ call out for that! I also discovered the artists Anke Eissmann, Jenny Dolfen, and Catherine Karina Chmiel who imagined Tolkien’s world visually in a way I found very appealing. Their love for The Silmarillion (and certain Sons of Fëanor!) likely keep me coming back to them as my favorite Tolkien artists.

As a teacher, I had opportunities to work Tolkien into my classroom. Did you know that there are examples of all the various types of erosion in The Hobbit? My earth science students found that out when they had to match the passage to the vocab word. Did you know that blond hair travels in hobbit families the same way it does in human families? My biology students got to study inheritance patterns in hobbit family trees. And of course I could always write what was happening in Middle-earth under the date. On October 6th, it was dark in the dell under Weathertop….

I discovered conventions and costuming, starting in 2006 at the Gathering of the Fellowship in Toronto. (Oh, I also had the opportunity to see the Lord of the Rings musical in both Toronto and London; it was very interesting, but not necessarily good. I liked it!) I’ve already mentioned ALEP, so you know where this goes, and I’ve also attended DragonCon three times. My costumes include: an orc, an ent, Varda, Elwing, Curufin, random wood elves and hobbits. Oh, and I made a costume for Finduilas of Dol Amroth specifically so I could make the starry mantle but not wear a blond wig for Eowyn 😛 The costumes from Peter Jackson’s film are very lovely, but I’ve never made a recreation of one. I did get to see them up close at the exhibit in Boston, which was fun.

Most recently, my efforts have been directed towards the Silmarillion Film Project, contributing to a collaborative group effort to adapt The Silmarillion to a television series, spearheaded by Corey Olsen with the help of Trish Lambert and Dave Kale. I mostly help with script outlining, but it’s been great to work with artists – we have maps, we have costumes, we have location scouting, we have artwork…everything you would need to create for this adaptation is fair game to tackle. So there’s been all sorts of fun conversations, like how do the Light of the Trees influence the architecture of Tirion (do all the windows face west?) and what visual changes does Melkor undergo when he is transitioning from fair-seeming to tyrant of Angband, and how do you handle first contact between the elves and the dwarves?

The short answer: I have transitioned from being a passive reader to engaging the text academically, and then later creatively, and I feel that this last is the most fruitful and rewarding, so I intend to keep doing it. I also very much enjoy reading Tolkien’s work aloud.

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

Yes, of course. It’s very good. I would say that The Lord of the Rings is one of the best books ever written, and that it has surprisingly few flaws. People love it for a reason. But I take a strict ‘no pushing’ policy. I have friends and family members who have never read Tolkien’s work, and I do not push them to do so. I recognize that it is not to everyone’s taste, so if someone tells me that they prefer nonfiction to fiction, I’m not going to say, “You know what you should read? Lord of the Rings!” But at the same time, everyone knows I love it. It’s one of the first five things you learn about me, typically – you either find out that I’ve lived in Ethiopia, I’m Catholic, I used to teach high school, I grew up as the oldest of five kids on an apple orchard…or that I love Tolkien.

If you want to hear more from Marie Prosser, check out his great SFF blog: https://domnardireviews.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter: @Nardiviews

Tolkien Reading Day 2019!

The Tolkien Society has dubbed March 25th Tolkien Reading Day! This year, the Society has selected the topic ‘Tolkien and the Mysterious‘! In celebration of this topic, I thought I would make a what I am calling a Reading Day Roundup! I am pulling together bits and pieces of my First Impressions series and Tolkien Experience Project contributions that have to do with mystery! I hope you enjoy!


Tolkien Experience Contributions:

Only two contributes (to this point) have mentioned “mystery” in their responses: Tanya P. and Putri Prihatini. Interestingly, both of them mention mystery when they are describing their favorite parts of Tolkien!

Putri Prihatini says

I love the way Tolkien obscured many references when his characters mention history, characters, and stories from the past. He was supposedly the “know it all” in his world, but he restrained himself from revealing too much to the readers. This makes me feel the sense of mystery and wonder for the past, which results in some serious digging if I want to know more. When reading LOTR, for example, I only know as much as what the characters know, which makes me feel connected to them.

Tanya P. notes

Moria is one of my favorite locations in Middle-earth. Its perpetual darkness conceals secrets that I long to uncover. And I love the moment when Gandalf lifts this veil of mystery and gives his companions, and readers, a tiny glimpse of what they are missing.

It is interesting that one talks about preserving mystery while the other talks about unveiling or revealing mystery. Read more from Tanya P. and Putri Prihatini in their full Tolkien Experience Project contributions!


First Impressions series:

In my First Impressions series, I am reconstructing my first reading of The Lord of the Rings. I have mentioned mystery on three occasions over the course of the series so far. The first is when the hobbits meet Strider in Bree:

It is the artistry of Tolkien, however, to prolong the mystery and only unravel Aragorn’s true significance bit by bit.

I really enjoyed not knowing who this character really was and getting to know him slowly! I also mentioned mystery when I talked about The Watcher in the Water! I disliked the movie adaptation because Tolkien was very careful not to reveal too much about this  creature:

Despite how the movie interprets this event, Tolkien’s characterization of the action leaves more mystery surrounding the nature of the Watcher.

Finally, I mentioned mystery in my entry on the Mirror of Galadriel! I was speaking of elf magic and how the way that the elves perceive ‘magic’ convinced me of its reality in Middle-earth:

[Their] rational approach to magic was so verisimilitudinous with the way that people who understand a concept dispel the mystery of those who do not that I was completely sold on the existence of ‘magic’ in Tolkien’s world.

Wow, these very disparate observations all touch on mystery in interesting ways!

What are you reading to celebrate Tolkien and the mysterious on this Tolkien Reading Day?

LotRFI Pt.48 The Grey Company

The Grey Company was one of the most unexpected occurrences in all LotR to me. They show up in Rohan completely unheralded and change the course of the narrative entirely. As I said before, I did not read any contextual material in my first reading, so my entire experience with the sons of Elrond up to this point was their small roles in Rivendell. Therefore, it was completely unexpected that this troop of brave men that were not really introduced earlier should come into the story and completely alter Aragorn’s plans.

Image copyright Inger Eledfelt

While this may seem like a coincidental intrusion by the writer, it is explained well enough by the characters that it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story. It made sense to me that Galadriel would send what aid she could to Aragorn, and that the sons of Elrond would be the ones entrusted with such an important message (RK, V, ii, 775).

I will be honest and admit that I did not understand who ‘the Lady of Rivendell’ was or what she could have made for Aragorn (RK, V, ii, 775). I assumed that this was a reference to Elrond’s previously unmentioned wife and she was sending some gift to Aragorn as a source of comfort like the way that Mrs. Maggot send mushrooms with Farmer Maggot.

I followed Aragorn’s decision to use the Palantir and to ride on through the Paths of the Dead. I loved the description of the Paths and the other-worldly feel of these passages.

‘Signs and figures were carved above its wide arch too dim to read, and fear flowed from it like a grey vapor…Aragorn led the way, and such was the strength of his will in that hour that all the Dúnedain and their horses followed him’ (RK, V, ii, 786).

The Paths were different from the rest of the places that the company visits, except perhaps the elvish cities. These passages convey a sense of ineffability even as they try to describe most of the mundane actions throughout the sequence. In other words, I enjoyed how the narration mainly focuses on tangible facts, but still hints at something more. This reinforces both the ethereal feel of the pass, but also Aragorn’s strength of character.

The way that the Grey Company delivers the eucatastrophe at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields gives me chills every time I read it. Their unexpected arrival is foreshadowed well by their abrupt entrance to the narrative in Rohan. This kind of surprise meeting is now expected from the Dúnedain. The first time I read it, however, I was flabbergasted. I felt like Sam when he wonders if

‘everything sad [is] going to come untrue’ (RK, VI, iv, 951).

Their arrival just in time to ensure victory for the Gondorians was completely unexpected and drained me emotionally.

On a side note: Jackson gets the Ride of the Grey Company completely wrong. He establishes a king of the dead that Aragorn talks to and negotiates with, which is not accurate. I knew on my first reading that Aragorn was the king of the dead. This is why they follow him, they owe their allegiance to him.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Houses of Healing, then to examine the last stand

What Do You Think?

How did you first interpret the ride of the Grey Company?

Did you see Aragorn as the King of the Dead?

Did I miss something? Let me know!