Phillip “SilmFilm Composer” Menzies’s Experience – Tolkien Experience (123)

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 Phillip 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 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 Phillip “SilmFilm Composer” Menzies’s responses:


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

I was first introduced to Tolkien by my Year 8 English teacher in 1977 when I was 13. Our English class was in the school library, it was the last day of term and about to start two weeks of holidays. I told Mrs. Barran that I had finished the class novel and I had nothing to read over the holidays. She disappeared into the library and came back with a book, The Hobbit. She told me the class was going to read it next term and I could get a head start. I borrowed it and quickly devoured it, following it up quickly with local library copies of the Lord of The Rings trilogy. The following year I read The Silmarillion only a year after it was published, not knowing what an important book it was. The only disappointing part of the story is that my English class never ended up reading The Hobbit.

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

Identifying my favourite part of Tolkien’s work is difficult. The best way to identify this would be remembering when I was studying in the years after school. As a form of procrastination, I would pick up my favourite books off my shelf and read a chapter. I often found myself picking up either the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant or The Lord of the Rings. I remember reading the chapters in Moria again and again. I think I found irresistible the immense age of the mines, the mystery behind the disappearance of Balin’s company, and the terror of the revelation of the balrog along with the fall of Gandalf. These passages are such a rollercoaster to read and I never tired of them. I also found myself mesmerised with the Ainulindale, and I was excited to find that my two favourite authors at the time Tolkien and Lewis both used music to create their imaginative worlds.

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

I recently rediscovered a forgotten experience on Youtube. A video was recommended due to my viewing history and was a track from Bo Hansson’s Music Inspired by The Lord of the Rings. It took me back to the early 1980’s when I was at university and the library had a relaxing area where you could listen to records wearing headphones. This record was part of the university’s collection and I would listen to this during my lunch breaks. It is very dated with a strong 1970’s sound, but I remember the distinctive artwork on the cover and staring at it for ages trying to work out how the images related to the book as the images are very abstract. Even at that time I was drawn to the idea that a book could inspire music and the music could draw images in your mind.

In 2010, 2011 and 2012 I was lucky to be able to see the three Lord of the Rings movies at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra playing the scores. This was absolutely amazing to hear the music being played live and also began a journey for me to plunge into the music of the films and to develop a deeper understanding of how music was used by Howard Shore and other composers to convey themes and characters in Middle-earth.

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

My approach to Tolkien has changed dramatically over time. I have always held it apart from other works of fiction, particularly other fantasy novels. I identified very early that The Lord of the Rings contained a depth that other novels did not have. All other fantasy novels seemed to be two dimensional with very basic backstories with little detail. These novels always tied up everything nicely and there were no lose ends. Tolkien’s works were not so tidy with references to things that were never explained, a bit like real life. This led to a great dissatisfaction with other fantasy writers as I was expecting the same level of detail that I was getting in Tolkien’s works. Over the years as I have tackled the History of Middle-earth series (which I have still not finished) and I have been more forgiving of other writers, understanding that Tolkien worked his whole life on integrating these stories into each other and it is something that he never completed. Listening to the podcasts of the Tolkien Professor has also helped me to gain a greater insight into Tolkien’s works and also to change the way I read, paying greater attention to what is written and slowing down and taking it in rather than hurrying on with the story.

Recently through my involvement with the Silmarillion Film Project I have started to write music based on The Silmarillion. This has opened up the Silmarillion even more to me as I try to make sense of how musical themes can interact with each other to indicate relationships that might not be visible to the hasty reader. My understanding of the Ainulindale, Tolkien’s creation story has leapt forward. In tackling an adaptation of The Silmarillion and the Ainulindale, many people go from, first there was Eru straight to the playing of the music and the three themes because that is the name of the story, “the Music of the Ainur”. My careful reading has informed me that lots of things happen between Eru and the “music” being played and I have made it my challenge to write this in music in a way that it has not been done before. Many of the attempted adaptations of the Ainulindale into music do not show the complex interweaving of the music to my satisfaction. My latest revelation musically in The Silmarillion was reading “Of Beren and Luthien”. The song that Luthien sang to Mandos for the release of Beren after his death is described thus, “For Luthien wove two themes of words, of the sorrow of the Eldar and the grief of Men.” For me finding links in the music is important if I am going to write it. I came to the conclusion in this passage that what could move Mandos to release Beren was no less than the third theme of the Ainulindale as stated “For the Children of Iluvatar were conceived by him alone (Iluvatar); and they came with the third theme and were not in the theme that Iluvatar propounded at the beginning”. To me, the great, glorious, sad third theme of the Ainulindale expresses the sorrow of the Eldar and the grief of Men. When writing music using Leitmotifs I am always looking for relationships. In my piece “The Hiding of Valinor” I needed some music to represent the creation of the Enchanted Islands, so I looked at the enchantment, not the land masses and came to the conclusion that the enchantment that causes you to fall into an everlasting slumber and to dream must come from Este and Irmo, so I used their themes, albeit in a warped way, to depict the islands. So, my interaction with Tolkien’s worlds has moved from just enjoying stories to looking deeper and becoming a sub creator myself.

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

I always recommend Tolkien’s works. I can’t contain my love of his works and I find myself talking about them often to people who will listen and even to those who won’t listen. Once you find something that inspires you it is hard to restrain yourself. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies have been a great springboard for me to engage other people and I recently visited New Zealand and was able to visit some of the filming locations which was another great way to engage other people with the worlds of Tolkien. I was able to take the tour guide to a deeper level by explaining the bird imagery on the Rivendell set and engage with other tourists who like me were looking for the Twelve Mile Delta site where Frodo and Sam saw the mumukil. At the same time, I am very aware that for many people, the Lord of the Rings books and movies are just like any other book or movie and hold no special significance and therefore I tend to choose my audience. I will geek out on Twitter where I have connected with other Tolkien fans, but not on Facebook where I have family and old school friends who just don’t understand.


You can find more from Phillip Menzies on YouTube!

Lukas Heinen’s Experience – Tolkien Experience Project (122)

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 Lukas 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 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 Lukas Heinen’s responses:


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

I think I was about 10 years old when the movies came out. I think they were my first contact with Tolkien’s world, and watching the Peter Jackson trilogy as I grew up changed my life in so many ways. I felt a deep sympathy with the failing nature of men, I loved Boromir so much for his utter failure – and even more for his brave redemption. I’ve always loved those dramatic stories about knights. I already knew about King Arthur and other historic figures of great tragedy, and somehow I found myself in this. It wasn’t the big heroes of Middle-earth that caught my attention. It wasn’t brave Sam, mighty Aragorn or others, it was the failing characters, such as Boromir, or the seemingly unimportant yet incredibly impactful characters such as Gimli, that warmed my heart. Somehow, I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be part of a world where things were bigger than, you know, school, or later, my day job in the office. The great theme of Hope, Estel, was something that I fully identified with, and it made me the person that I am today: While I do get disheartened occasionally, I always know that the sun will rise at some point, things will get better and will be good at some point.

And then – I read the books. I liked them even better then the movies. It did not feel like fiction, it didn’t even feel like fairy-tale. It felt like history. It felt like an ancient story of a great civilization, it felt like a history that was there before the history of this world. I discovered The Silmarillion (and believe me, the German Silmarillion is even harder to read than the English version!) and I loved it. Fingolfin, Turgon, Finrod Felagund, all these great elven lords. I cried when Huan talked the third time, I was shaking when the Battle of Unnumbered Tears arose, and I trembled upon the description of the heroic deeds on that day. Until today, Middle-earth remains dearest to my heart. It is my refuge, it is the place I dream of whenever I face today’s hardships, and it makes me think: “Why can’t we all be like the heroes of these stories?”

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

There’s so much: The Battle of Unnumbered Tears, The charge of the Rohirrim on the Pelennor fields. However, my actual favorite part is: Imrahil, Lord of Dol Amroth! I love when he is coming to Minas Tirith and you can see and feel the old spirit of Westernis strong in his people. It is a shame, an absolute shame(!) that they cut him out of the movies and replaced his troops with the ghost-army-ex-machina-of-the-dead. The swan knights of Dol Amroth are what I imagine as the last of the men of the west, fighting for Gondor, for the remains of old Glory, knowing that doom is upon them, yet they fight, they hope, and in the end, Hope is triumphant over Evil.

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

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor

Be it in the movies at Helm’s Deep or at Minas Tirith, be it in the books: Théoden (and also Éomer and the riders of Rohan that stopped singing and only shouted “Death”) and his war cries, his poetic, heroic way of riding into battle, nothing tops that for me.

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

Yes, absolutely. I was your generic “uh, the movies are great, have you ever checked out The Silmarillion?!” fan. I knew there was more, but I always enjoyed the stories and didn’t care for the scholarship part for a long time. That changed when I discovered the Prancing Pony Podcast. Alan and Shawn were amazing. Tthrough their podcast, I was introduced to the world of Tolkien scholarship. I started reading through secondary literature, discoreved Tom Shippey, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, a certain Luke Shelton, and so many others! Through them, I discovered the Carpenter biography, found out about John Garth, about Dimitra Fimi, and ever since, my focus changed. I was amazed when I found out to what lengths Tolkien went to make Middle-earth what it is today.

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

Is that a trick question?

I’d always recommend reading Tolkien. He is, to me, the greatest author of the 20th century.


You can find Lukas Heinen on Facebook!

Elise Trudel Cedeño’s Experience – Tolkien Experience (121)

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 Elise 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 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 Elise Trudel Cedeño’s responses:


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

I was introduced to Tolkien when my dad rented the Rankin and Bass Hobbit film and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. I had never heard of Tolkien before, and I had no idea that the films were adapted from books at that time. Not long after, Peter Jackson’s Fellowship came out, and while I attempted to read The Lord of the Rings, I wasn’t entirely successful. I also had no clue that The Hobbit was a children’s book! The lore was entirely over my head at age eleven, and I had a hard time separating the films from the text. I tried again in college with what I felt was a much greater success, and I’ve been slowly working through Tolkien’s other books as well. I think, however, The Lord of the Rings will always be my first love.

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

My favorite parts of Tolkien’s work are the relationships and friendships that are developed over the lore and the stories. Whether it’s Sam and Frodo, Legolas and Gimli, Beren and Luthien, or others, it’s clear to me how much Tolkien values “human” relationships and emotions, He understands love and friendship’s many forms and he excellently develops characters to embody these values.

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

My fondest experience was in the summer of 2018. I had listened to Corey Olsen’s podcasts before, and I had been following Mythgard and Signum University for a while. After taking two classes with Signum I had to take a semester off because I was getting married, moving to a new apartment, looking for new employment, and going on my honeymoon to New Zealand! I decided to prepare for the trip by listening to the Mythgard podcast episodes for The Lord of the Rings. Listening to Corey’s close reading analyses helped me understand the layers of the text that I had not considered previously. I took copious notes to help me focus, and it made my NYC subway commute much more bearable. When I got to New Zealand and visited the Hobbiton movie set, Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom) and Mt. Sunday (Edoras), I felt a deep connection with the land and with Tolkien. I could see the armies of Gil-galad and Elendil and Sauron massing at the foot of Mt. Doom, or Bilbo sitting in his garden at Bag End. When the tour bus takes you into the set at Hobbiton, an introductory video is played for the tourists to watch, with Howard Shore’s “Concerning Hobbits” playing in the background. I started crying with absolute joy that I was finally experiencing this world physically, and not just in my imagination. My poor husband just looked at me as if I were crazy, and to this day he still teases me about it. On the other hand, he was such a good sport about taking me there, and of course he enjoyed the complimentary beer at the Green Dragon.

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

Absolutely. Since joining the Signum University and Mythgard community, I’ve learned a lot more about Tolkien’s craft and how he developed Middle-earth over time. I’m able to analyze his content now more effectively, and I have been branching out into his lesser-known works as well. Last year, I read his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as well as The Fall of Arthur. His mastery of poetry and alliterative meter in Fall of Arthur is unparalleled, in my opinion. I’ve also found that Tolkien’s work is also great for oral reading. Hearing his work is just as delightful, if not more so, as reading it.

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

It depends on to whom I am making the recommendation. If it were my students or to someone who had never read Tolkien before, I would certainly recommend The Hobbit. If it were to someone who had a bit more experience with literature or someone who was looking for a challenge, I would certainly recommend Tolkien’s poetry or his Histories. If someone is looking for something wacky, entertaining, and an excellent example of a father’s bedtime story gone wild… then there’s nothing better than Mr. Bliss.


You can find more from Elise Trudel Cedeño on her website or Twitter!

Gene Little’s Experience – Tolkien Experience Project (120)

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 Gene 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 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 Gene Little’s responses:


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

I’m a little uncertain as to exactly how, but it is definitely one of the two following ways.

Firstly, back in the late ‘70’s a highlight of my week was getting the bus to the library after school every Wednesday, which was always wet and grey (I was given 10p for the bus ride which left change for sweets!). In the cosy, book-smelling library on the edge of Boultham Park in Lincoln, I first came across The Hobbit.

However, this was around the same time that I first saw Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings; the film poster being such a familiar memory of my childhood, with my father still commenting today on how I knew every word of the film.

However, this was all reinforced through my additional interest in, what were called then, the “Dark Ages” as well as traipsing around the Spring or Autumnal Lincolnshire countryside (usually following a small group of us being dropped off 20-25 miles from home and having to work our way home); to this day, the smell of burning vegetation, especially on a cold misty day remind me of this. These interests and experiences felt very Tolkienisitic (is that a word?) and were further reinforced through the release of Games Workshop’s ‘Middle Earth Role Playing’ system (MERP)

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

A difficult one. It used to be predominantly LOTR, specifically The Two Towers with its stronger Anglo-Saxon influence. I now have a real fondness for The Silmarillion, especially the more expanded Children of Húrin, although On Fairy-Stories strikes a deep note with me, encapsulating the explanation of that ‘mythic’ hole many of us feel, but struggle to describe for various reasons. Also, recently I’ve found myself preoccupied with The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún (following a recent Smial meeting where the topic was Dragons and I became a little obsessed with Fafnir in preparation) and also The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth; Anglo-Saxons again!

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

Here, I must refer back to the cosy warmth I associate with my library expeditions. The cosy warmth, a comfort blanket if you will, is literally my fondest memory:

I remember cold, damp Sunday mornings when I was perhaps 9 or 10, made worse by the lack of double glazing in a terraced ex-council house, cosily blanketed on my bed, close to the radiator and reading Bilbo’s exploits in the Elven Halls.

With my exposure to these parts of Tolkien’s work (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), I do feel that these certainly shaped my identity early on.

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

Yes, indeed. At the start of the ‘90’s, I found myself as a young father with a young family and unable to indulge my own ‘childish’ interests, regardless of their connection to my identity. Career also beckoned, demanding my attention on a professional ‘time-burgling’ scale. My children grew and pursued their own lives, as did both myself and my wife. Upon meeting my new partner I have now been able to indulge my prior interests.

Since last doing this, I have developed ‘maturer’ interests in history, poetry, literature, philosophy and science. Upon re-visiting Tolkien, I have found that comfort blanket still there, exuding a warmth and fleece-like touch, but now I desire the extra understanding, to study the loom upon which the blanket was made.

And with Tolkien, this is abundant! So, I find myself desiring to know and understand more rather than just enjoying Bilbo’s exploits in the Elven-Halls at face-value; language, history, myth…

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

Many people would not express an interest in Tolkien, either directly or even through an interest in mine own interests; my own passion for Tolkien does not blind me to the understanding that for many, he is not regarded as a ‘serious’ interest for the field of literature. This may also have been reinforced by the films which suggest ‘escapism’ and ‘disbelief’ from the real world (see On Fairy-Stories for a better understanding of these words… 😉 )

Indeed, the word ‘literature’ can be enough to put some people off…

However, should they express any sort of interest, then yes I would definitely recommend him for all the above reasons!

*aside – I do not regard myself as the bore at the dinner table endlessly promoting a subject that others have no interest in…regardless of what they say!

Laura Iseut Lafrance St-Martin’s Experience – Tolkien Experience (119)

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 Laura 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 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 Laura Iseut Lafrance St-Martin’s responses:


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

I am not sure. I have forgotten the context surrounding my first encounter with Tolkien’s work. I must say that following a medical accident my first memory dates only back to when I was 12 years old. This accident affected my episodic memory, which is the part responsible for the personal history (friends, events, books read, etc.), leaving the “abstract memory” intact (language, mathematic, etc.). But the interesting part is that when I woke up after this event, I had not forgotten lore concerning Tolkien’s work, which I should have. I had forgotten everyone except my parents and my sister (including people I saw every day), but I definitely knew who Gandalf was. The only explanation I was given regarding this is that it was so central for me since I was a little child, that it was somewhat stored not as a story but as important knowledge.

According to my mother, I was quite young (probably 5-6 years old) when my sister received a copy of The Hobbit, which she liked moderately. When it was my turn to read it, I loved it so much that I immediately requested the other books.

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

As a Ph.D. candidate working on “On Fairy-Stories”, one of my favorite Tolkien’s text is this essay. I think that there is something very powerful and very important in this essay.

Concerning fiction, I really love the first pages of Ainulindalë and I regret that Tolkien did not write more abstract pure cosmogony and mythology.

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

When I was 17 years old, I re-read “On Fairy-Stories” and The Lord of the Rings at the end of the semester. I really don’t know why (because I had read these texts before), but that time was really emotional. I experienced a real (and very long) catharsis. It lasted for several weeks and when I emerged for this intense period, I changed many things in my life, including my field of study. These decisions still affect my life today, for example, the subject of my Ph.D. thesis.

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

Yes, definitely. From young child to an adult, it would be strange if it had not changed. Almost every time I read LotR, “OFS,” or The Silmarillion, I find something else, something I had not seen before. With time, my relationship with Tolkien’s work has become more ethical and political. Also, Tolkien’s personality and beliefs have become more important.

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

Yes, of course. But I do know that his work is not for everyone. I don’t think that Tolkien’s works are “universally” good (if it matters, I don’t think that any story can be universally good), but there is something very powerful and meaningful in his work. Not many writers can achieve that level and most people would find something meaningful to them, something that can change them (and possibly make them better persons).


You can read scholarship from Laura Iseut Lafrance St-Martin on her ResearchGate page.

Rachel R’s Experience- Tolkien Experience Project (118)

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 Rachel 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 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 Rachel R’s responses:


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

For some reason I never discovered the copy of The Hobbit that my brother had, later I found out that we owned both the English and a German version of that book but it was never much discussed in our family. Many years later, I must have been 14 or 15 years old, I hung out with a good friend and somehow the conversation got to The Lord of the Rings (the Peter Jackson movies). I had no idea what he was talking about and after his initial consternation of this educational gap of mine he sat me down and we watched the whole trilogy right then and there – and I was hooked. I instantly fell in love with the movies the whole feel of the story and the characters, everything was so incredibly epic.
I went home that day and told my parents my wish for my upcoming birthday are those movies. My birthday came around, I opened my present and instead of my new favourite movies I held a paperback book trilogy in hands, green books with weird covers. To be honest I was quite disappointed but looking back I am eternally grateful to my parents because that is where my love for Tolkien really started even though they got me the worst of the available German translations, but back then I didn’t know about that so it didn’t really bother me. I started reading and could not get into it, at all. I dragged myself through book one (out of seven) and the only reason I didn’t give up on it was because I knew the movies were amazing and so this book was bound to become epic at some point. I willed myself through that first book and I’m glad I did because for some reason with the start of book two I could not put it down.

Once I was done with the appendices I bought myself a copy of The Silmarillion and devoured that as well. I was held captured by the beauty, the tragedy and the vastness of that world I didn’t know existed before. It was after that when I discovered The Hobbit at home. And since then to this day I jump at every opportunity to learn more and dive deeper into Tolkien’s legendarium or other works.

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

I think what I admire most is that I can’t seem to grow weary of Tolkien’s writings. These books get better every time you read them. Whenever I reread LOTR or The Hobbit or any of the other works I discover new dimensions, new aspects of the story and a greater fondness and respect for their creator. The more I know about Tolkien and his legendarium the more intriguing, capturing and satisfying it gets. I love that I can grow with these stories and each time I read them different parts become memorable and important to me.
The first time I read LOTR I skipped the poems, thought Frodo was the most annoying character and was bored to death by the first book. Now the poems are one of my favourite part. I admire Frodo, and I cannot understand my past self because I adore the beauty of the language in the first chapters. There is so much happening and it is not boring at all. But all that I attribute to my greater knowledge and understanding of both the works of Tolkien and life in general. And I know that there is so much more to discover, after all I am still pretty young and cannot yet look back on a 50 years history with reading these amazing books, but I can whole-heartedly say that I look forward to that day

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

This is a tough one because there are a lot of those. But one great experience was a sleep over I had with a few girl friends when we were still in high school. We decided to marathon all three LOTR extended editions and for some reason that was THE funniest watching of the movies I ever had. We made fun of the Balrog for having wings and not being able to fly with them and the whole day was very chaotic and silly but absolutely great.

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

Oh certainly. I started out reading Tolkien in German, my mother tongue/ At some point I moved on to reading the original in English which in turns shifted my interest towards different translations and their faithfulness to the original.

I have become much more of a collector over the years to the point of alienation of my family and friends who do not share nor understand my obsession. I am far more open to scholarly approaches to his work and I really enjoy diving beneath the finished story to discover influences, early drafts and all the ‘behind the scenes’ material that is out there. At some point I realized that I actually read Beowulf looong before even discovering Tolkien and it’s great being able to trace his works back to the legends and myths I adored when I was a child.

On the other hand, I started collecting translations of LOTR. In 2015 I bought a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in traditional Chinese in a bookstore in Chengdu, China. I did not have any hope to ever be able to read this book, but I just couldn’t leave it there for some reason. It was really intriguing to see the map of middle earth, that I knew so well, with these foreign characters on it and it was simply beautiful. Since then I purchase one LOTR book in each country I visit in the local language (sometimes I pick up a copy of The Hobbit if no LOTR translation is available). This way I connect real life memories with the books I love and this realization that Tolkien is read all over the world, in front of different cultural backgrounds and circumstances, and it still talks to each and every person so individually is incredible to me. And I’m trying to read all my books at least once (those in the languages I master).

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

Absolutely, I think everyone should watch the movies at least once (if possible the extended editions) because they are a cinematic masterpiece. But I also think everyone who has seen the movies should not stop there because, lets be honest, the real story is on the pages. Tolkien’s work has taught me so much especially in sharing a similar Christian worldview with the Professor, and I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on that.

Now, I don’t force Tolkien on anyone but his works are so prominent in my life it’s hard to know me and not get in contact with it. And I’m happy about every opportunity to talk about it with fellow enthusiasts.

Phil Knight’s Experience – Tolkien Experience (117)

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 Phil 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 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 Phil Knight’s responses:


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

My very first introduction to Tolkien was, I think, BBC’s Jackanory adaptation of The Hobbit, broadcast way back in 1979. Jackanory was a long-running children’s TV series in the UK in which a fairly well-known actor or celebrity would read an abridged version of a children’s story, usually interspersed with specially commissioned illustrations, over the course of 5 fifteen minute weekday episodes. The Hobbit broadcasts ran over two weeks and were commissioned to mark the show’s 3,000th episode. Rather than a single reader, several actors contributed to the reading, though my abiding memory is of Bernard Cribbins taking the part of Bilbo. Bernard Cribbins was – still is – a well-known actor and TV personality who did a lot of work in children’s TV. Fans of Doctor Who will likely know him from both the 1966 film Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. and as the grandfather of one of the companions of David Tennant’s incarnation as the tenth Doctor. He has one of those instantly charming and recognisable voices, and I can remember just being reeled in by it and then totally captured by this amazing story. I recently discovered the audio for these episodes is available on CD, so just had to buy, though it was with some trepidation I started to listen again with fears of childhood nostalgia about to go up in smoke! But I shouldn’t have worried and was pleasantly surprised to find it still holds up very well even now. I think it would still make an excellent introduction to Tolkien’s work for the right person. Yes, it’s an abridgement, but one that remains very true to its original. For me anyway, it became the catalyst for seeking out the book. The Lord of the Rings quickly followed, which I loved even more. But as a 10 or 11 year old at the time, The Silmarillion was a bridge too far and quickly ended in failure! I had to wait a few more years (quite a few in fact) until I finally “got” that.

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

This is definitely something that has changed, and continues to change, over time, and it’s nigh impossible for me to pick out one particular favourite part. As a child it was surely the thrill of the adventure, together with all the weird and wonderful creatures inhabiting Middle-earth. Then came recognition of the immense depth and detail underpinning his created world, a realisation which seemed to explode exponentially as soon as I started to dig into HoME where the full scope and vastness is laid bare. Learning more about Tolkien’s own context – his life, war experience, relationship with the inklings, and academic and scholarly work – has transformed, and continues to transform, the way I think about and appreciate his work. In more recent years I suppose I’ve engaged much more with Tolkien’s academic work. While this has certainly also fed into and significantly enhanced my appreciation of the legendarium, it’s also given me a far greater appreciation of Tolkien first and foremost the pre-eminent scholar. I suppose if forced to pick out one single aspect of Tolkien’s work it would perhaps be the way his academic knowledge as medievalist and philologist feeds not just into his Middle-earth legendarium but gives rise to so much of his other – perhaps my favourite – literary output: his Beowulf translation, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, Finn and Hengest, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, and so on. Ask me the same question in 6 to 12 months time though, and the answer will almost surely have changed! But then again, isn’t that also part of the beauty of his work?

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

A number of your respondents have talked about “sense” memory and that’s certainly the case for me, too. I can vividly recall sitting in the garden of our house during a particularly hot summer reading The Hobbit for the first time; I must have been about ten or eleven. I also remember listening to the excellent Rob Inglis narrated audiobook of The Lord of the Rings while on a family holiday sailing around the Mediterranean – fond memories of that holiday will forever be inextricably linked with that book.

My fondest experience of Tolkien’s work, however, and one which ultimately turned out to be life changing, was participating in some online courses that Dr Dimitri Fimi presented through Cardiff University some 10 or so years ago. One was on Fantasy Literature, the other Tolkien, Myth and Middle-earth In Context. This was the first time I’d been exposed to Tolkien scholarship and also the first time I’d studied in the humanities at postgraduate level. Not only were these courses just THE best experiences in their own right, they became the catalyst for me to return to uni to study for a BA in humanities (specifically, I did a degree in Classical Studies). I’m now over halfway through an MA with Signum University following a Germanic Philology pathway. It’s no exaggeration to say that without Tolkien – and Dr Fimi’s influence in particular – the last 10 years or so would have taken a completely different and (I suspect) far less fulfilling direction.

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

Yes, undoubtedly. I’ve touched on this to some extent in my previous answer to the question on my favourite part of Tolkien’s work, but from my very earliest encounters where I generally approached his work as a fan of his fantasy fiction, nowadays my engagement is much more with Tolkien the academic. This has undoubtedly added to my appreciation of his fiction and I can’t imagine ever losing the sheer enjoyment of reading his work simply for entertainment. At the same time, though, from a medievalist and philological perspective, I find his scholarly output endlessly fascinating, with so much still utterly relevant and influential in spite of its age.

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

Yes, and indeed did so fairly recently. A friend who is really into Harry Potter and Game of Thrones had started to watch the Lord of the Rings films but struggled to get into them. I got her to try The Hobbit and, after she really enjoyed that, encouraged her to try reading The Lord of the Rings books, which she really enjoyed too – mission accomplished! Having said that, while I would never pass up an opportunity to point someone towards Tolkien’s work I appreciate that they aren’t going to be to everyone’s taste. On that basis I wouldn’t necessarily always recommend his work as a matter of course. I think many of his works demand a particular type of reader; I’m pretty sure the friend I mention would struggle with The Silmarillion, for example, so I would never push it – sometimes best to quit while ahead!


You can find more from Phil Knight on Twitter!

Björn Axén’s Experience – Tolkien Experience (116)

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 Björn 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 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 Björn Axén’s responses:


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

My teacher read The Hobbit for the class when I was 10. Since then I have loved Tolkien. I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time between eleven and twelve and then The Silmarillion when I was fourteen (all of these in Swedish). During my later teenage years I read them in English.

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

I really love different parts of his works. I clearly remember when Aragorn tells the Hobbits about Beren and Lúthien, and Gil-Galad and Elendil and The Last Alliance and how it was like a window opened up to the mythic legends and I was astonished. I remember that I really wondered about what a Balrog was. It was clearly something very terrible. Legolas’s reaction indicated that the elves knew about Balrogs. All this was like a window into a new universe which of course leads to The Silmarillion.

When I read The Silmarllion I concluded that it’s a distillation, a clear crystal, of European myths. I am most fascinated by Tolkien’s languages and I have studied Quenya and can write tengwar fluently (but I do not read it that well). I have an ongoing project to construct a Black Speech of Mordor (from the base of primitive Elvish). For the last few years I have been really intrigued by Narn i Chîn Húrin (i.e. The Children of Húrin) and how Tolkien weaves together the myths of Sigurd Fafnisbane, Kullervo and Oedipus and incorporates this amalgam story into his own greater mythology. 

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

When my teacher read The Hobbit for the class. He drew the map in different colours on the black board with a beautiful dragon. After that I started to draw maps and dragons instead of cars. 

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

Yes, very much. First there was listening to The Hobbit, reading The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Then trying to understand his languages and studying Quenya and some Sindarin and other parts of the lore. I was a member of Mellonath Daeron, the language guild of the Forodrim (Stockholm’s Tolkien society). Some years ago I had a part in organizing two Tolkien LARPs (live action role playing) called Utumno and Simbelmynë. After that, I played the table top roleplaying game The One Ring for some years. Since then I have allowed myself to delve deeper into the world of Tolkien and read through all of the History of Middle-earth and read other things that inspired Tolkien, such as the Kalevala, Beowulf and Old Norse Literature (which is really an interest that I found before I heard of Tolkien). In the last four years I have started to explore Tolkien’s languages again (which is really a great way to understand his works) by developing my Neo-Black Speech called Zhâburi and ”collecting” other ”dialects”, i.e. to describe other works of Neo-Black Speeches. I have also started to improve my German by reading Der Herr der Ringe, the German translation of The Lord of the Rings. I have an idea that I should read in the north germanic languages and Dutch. (Danish and Norwegian will not really be difficult (as they are very closely related to Swedish) but Icelandic and Dutch require that I learn to read the two languages.)  

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

Yes, I’m especially promoting The Children of Húrin as one of the best fantasy or really neo-myths of all time. Still, I really understand that Tolkien is not for everyone. I see Tolkien as an author that reintroduced the myth to the disenchanted modern world. And I think this is what makes people so fascinated by his works.


You can find more from Björn Axén at his blog!

Dylan Higgins’s Experience – Tolkien Experience Project (115)

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 Dylan 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 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 Dylan Higgins’s responses:


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

I was first introduced to Tolkien’s work when our family sat down to watch the Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit on television in the early 80s. I was captivated by Gandalf and absolutely terrified by the goblins! To this day, I still prefer the R/B depiction of Gandalf (particularly the beard, the eyebrows, and the voice) and the goblins (Gandalf and the Goblins…that sounds like a band name). Not long afterward, my parents bought for me the children’s storybook vinyl of both The Hobbit and ROTK by R/B. I still have them! Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was about to marry, in my early twenties, that I picked up the books. My interest was piqued when I came across the early release of that photo of the Nine at the ford, showcasing a scene from the Fellowship film. I then read The Hobbit and Fellowship at which point my wife caught up with me and we adventured the rest of the journey together. We have done so several times since.

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

If I have to narrow it down (which is very challenging for us all, I’m sure), it is the theme of hope. But this needs to be subdivided into two categories.
1. Hope in the midst of great despair – wherever you turn in this epic the protagonists are faced with insurmountable odds and yet there always seems to emerge a glimmer of hope. It arises in the nick of time. One moment that comes to mind is when Frodo and Sam see the star high above in the night sky, barely visible but for a chink in the dense clouds of Mordor – a sign that the winds of fate are changing. I see similarities in this with the chink in Smaug’s armor. In these examples, the narrow openings represent the way out, I think — the smallest of chances — but as with all such eucatastrophes a tiny glimmer of hope is all that we need! This is, perhaps, best worded by Legolas, who says of the seemingly hapless pursuit of the captured halflings, “Yet do not cast all hope away. Tomorrow is unknown. Rede oft is found at the rising of the Sun.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings)
2. LOTR is a powerful instrument of ‘sehnsucht’ for the far country — a yearning or longing for what Tolkien calls the True West, what Lewis calls Aslan’s Country, and what the Apostle Paul calls the future hope of Glory. This future hope comes to life before Frodo’s eyes on his voyage from the Grey Havens toward the West. I would suggest it is best described by Gandalf, in his discussion with Pippin about death, as follows:

PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings)

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

If I may take the liberty, I have more than one!
– Seeing the Shire made manifest on the silver screen. It was a tearful moment!
Reading The Hobbit and LOTR aloud with my wife in our first year of marriage. We actually jumped up off the couch with excitement when Eowyn faced down the Witch King of Angmar!
– Reading The Hobbit and LOTR with each of my children (I have four of them and the oldest two have now adventured through with me). These readings have produced some of the best memories ever, as we have read on vacations, by campfires and fireplaces alike!
– Starting a smial of The Tolkien Society with my son which we named Remmirath Fellowship. Though we are only a year old we have about 20 members and we love to eat second breakfast and camp together!
– My sister’s life was taken from her nearly four years ago and she loved Tolkien’s work! A year or so after her death, I came across my son’s old Gameboy. He had recorded some videos on it that none of us had ever seen and that he had forgotten about as well. I uploaded them to my computer and found a video he had shot of my sister washing dishes while singing along to Annie Lenox’s “Into the West,” my eldest daughter by her side, painting at the kitchen island. She longed for the far country in life and it was a priceless gift to see her singing of it after she had passed into the west, herself!

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

Absolutely! The books are an old friend to me having been a part of my life for decades. But I still get that feeling accompanying the excitement of the first read, which I now experience through my children. It’s akin to that renewed sense of wonder that parents experience through the eyes of their young child at Christmas time. Another major difference is that the older I get the more emotional I am when reading these stories — especially when reading aloud to my kids. There are many moments where I have to stop and collect myself before going on. My children wait patiently for me to continue, fully aware of what’s happening even though I’ve brought the book closer to my face as if I’m trying to see a word more closely. Nope. Just crying.

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

Yes, I would and yes I do! I have taught several classes in secondary school on both Tolkien and Lewis and I’m always referring to Tolkien’s themes in my sermons on Sunday mornings. I think the congregation might be getting a little tired of the references but it won’t stop anytime soon. I would recommend Tolkien’s work because in it we see the human condition — the story of humanity unfolding. I know Tolkien has famously stated that his work is not analogous to anything particular but it certainly carries within it the heart of what it means to be human. This imaginative look at the heart and soul of mankind is worth sharing and often!


You can read more from Dylan Higgins on his website (including links to books) or at Remmirath Fellowship.

Thomas Denys’s Experience – Tolkien Experience (114)

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 Thomas 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 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 Thomas Denys’s responses:


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

My first acquaintance with Tolkien’s work was through Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. I was 12 years old when The Return of the King came out in cinemas and was heavily impressed. Some months later my grandparents bought me The Two Towers and The Return of the King (in Dutch translation) as a gift, so I had to buy The Fellowship of the Ring with my own savings. I started reading (and later collecting) Tolkien and have never stopped.

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

It’s hard to pick a favourite gem from such an immense hoard, but I always feel rapt when reading Tolkien’s scholarly essays. Also, I think Tolkien’s poetry deserves a lot more attention than it generally receives: time and time again I am fascinated by its uniqueness and the immense, colourful variety in style, form and content.

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

Reading The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion as a teenager, in bed, just before going to sleep, and being unable to stop reading.

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

Evidently, when I started reading Tolkien as a teenager I only had eyes for the story as such. When I studied English Linguistics and Literature at university, my perspective widened: I started to do more ‘deep reading’ and started reading secondary literature on Tolkien and his works, as well as the Professor’s academic writings (which now made sense!). My approach toward reading Tolkien has somewhat evolved, but the awe and love for his work has remained constant from the beginning.

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

Obviously! One can compare Tolkien’s work to an iceberg: some will mount the tip; some will slip whilst doing so and give up, some will remain upright and enjoy the view from on top; some will be intrigued by its nature, will start exploring and will discover there’s still an immense part below surface (of course, one should regularly come back to surface, in order not to drown); and of course some people will remain uninterested and think it just an oversized ice cube…


You can find Thomas as Éarendel’ on the Tolkien Collector’s Guide forum