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

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Trevor and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase 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 Trevor Bowen’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Airin’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (57)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Airin and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase 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 Airin’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You can follow Airin on Twitter!

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

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Megan and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase 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 Megan N. Fontenot’s responses:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

John Hancock’s Experience–Tolkien Experience (54)

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 John 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 John Hancock’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

When I was at Adelaide University in the 70s there was a strong JRRT following. It appeared to have a significant cultural influence on many of my fellow students, even in the science faculty of which I was a part.

I bought a paperback copy of LOTR and once I started to read could not put it down. I was transported in a way that I never experienced previously and have not since.

I also bought another paperback The Adventures of Tom Bombadil which contains some short stories such as Leaf By Niggle and various poems. When my children were young I would often read the poems to them which they still remember.

After that I read LOTR every year until I was about forty. After that I have read it on average about every two to three years.

The original LOTR and TAOTB have long since fallen to pieces due to their constant use and have been replaced.

Once the movies were released I instantly became a fan and have watched them many times, and the commentaries and extras numerous times as well.

I also purchased The Silmarillion and have read that a number of times as well.

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

That is like having to choose between your children. If I had to choose I think it would be his poetry. More specifically, “Poems and Songs of Middle Earth.” Although not strictly adhering to the “Middle-earth” mythology it seems to me to encapsulate JRRT’s creative ability.

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

Back in Uni a friend loaned me a record of “The Poems and Songs of Middle Earth” and I subsequently bought the four record set.

It has a song cycle of songs sung by William Elvin and music by Donald Swan (of Flanders and Swan fame), and readings of poems and extracts from the book by Tolkien himself.

I spent many hours listening to these records.

I subsequently bought the hard cover book “Poems and Songs of Middle Earth” which contained the piano score of the Swan song cycle. I am sure I drove my family mad trying to play and sing the songs.

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

I cannot say that it has really. Well, that is not strictly true.

When I first read his work I was captivated and amazed at the complexity and sheer imagination. As I discovered more about the world that Tolkien created I become more and more engrossed in his legendarium.

Having discovered so much scholarly work, particularly The Tolkien Professor, it has given me a greater appreciation of the literary merits of JTTR’s work.

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

Short answer yes. Long answer maybe. I have found that many people have no desire for or appreciation of fantasy. That is not to say that they would not appreciate JRRT’s writings but I have found that it just leaves many people cold.

To be blunt he is not for everyone. However it has not stopped me recommending his work and never will but I rarely recommend others of his works such as The Silmarillian.


For more from John Hancock, check out his Twitter or his Facebook!

Cristina Montes’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (53)

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 Cristina 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 Cristina Montes’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

A philosophy professor in college (sometime between 1993-1997) recommended that I read Tolkien. It was only many years later, however, that I actually got around to doing so. That was when the LOTR movies were about to come out. I wanted to read the books before watching the movies.

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

I love the LOTR trilogy. It’s an annual ritual for me to re-read it. I simply love the story, the themes, the world Tolkien created, his characters, and the word-craft.

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

When I went to Spain to study for a year, I discovered that my Spanish landlady also has a passion for Tolkien. From that instant, the two of us became very good friends. She even lent me the Spanish edition of LOTR when she found out I read the trilogy once a year.

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

Yes. Every time I read the LOTR trilogy, different parts of it resonate depending on the personal issues I’m dealing with at the moment I’m reading the trilogy. Also, through time, I have read Tolkien biographies and commentaries and studies on his works; these have enriched my understanding and appreciation of Tolkien’s works and have given me new ways of viewing his works. Because of this, each re-reading of the LOTR trilogy is a unique experience.

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

Of course! Tolkien’s work has enriched my world and has made me a better person in more ways than one.

Michael Flowers–Tolkien Experience Project (52)

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 Michael 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 Michael Flowers’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

At Junior High School an English teacher retired, and we were given a science teacher for one hour a week. He obviously didn’t know how to conduct an English class. His solution was to get us to read in turn out loud The Hobbit to the rest of the class. I can remember personally reciting the bit about the dwarves approaching the fires of the Elvenking. I even had time to look up and see the whole class was spellbound. At the end of the academic year we hadn’t even finished the book, so I got it that Christmas, and read it all through myself.

A few years later on a school prize-giving day someone in another class got this strange thick green paperback book with a yellow spine – myself and others were receiving chunky hardback history books, or atlases. On investigation this green book was Pauline Baynes’ cover of The Lord of the Rings. I got it the following Christmas and read it through several times. I remember the first time I wondered who Arwen was at the end (I missed her earlier entrance in Rivendell, or forgot all about her). I was also surprised that Strider became the King.

A couple of years later I remember going into W.H. Smiths and coming across a desk absolutely covered with piles of a strange book with a floral design on the cover – this was the launch of The Silmarillion. I got the paperback for Christmas once it became available, but it took at least 3 attempts before I could get past the first two “chapters”.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Without question The Lord of the Rings. I prefer his mature style with a detailed attention to landscape and nature. I also like his building of suspense, and contrast between safe havens and places of danger. My favourite chapters of all are “The Shadow of the Past” and “The Council of Elrond.”

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I didn’t enjoy my senior school very much, but I remember once reading The Lord of the Ringswalking between classes, waiting outside classes in every spare moment. Then reading it at home once I got back from school. I think I managed to read it using every spare moment in 11 days. I remember finding the 3 volumes in Hull’s central library in the reference section for the first time, and being amazed by the appendices. My paperback copy only had the Aragorn and Arwen appendix. I was still at school, but spend lots of 2p pieces photocopying the appendices I wanted to read at home. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to buy the third volume in hardback, but pocket money was tight then – only 20p a week. I loved the 1981 BBC radio adaptation, and that helped with the pronunciation of words like Celeborn and Isengard – the pronunciation appendices meant nothing to me at the time!

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

Yes, when I first read it as a teenager my favourite chapters were “The Uruk-Hai” and “Shelob’s Lair”, but as an adult I definitely prefer “The King of the Golden Hall” and “Treebeard”. After I studied English literature at university were Tolkien wasn’t even mentioned, and I got the impression he was despised, I feared I would find the books childish. However, I found that the narrative had added depth, especially the sections dealing with the Riders of Rohan – after studying Old English. The first teenage readings were made at breakneck speed as the excitement mounted. Now, I like to take my time and savour all the words. However, I do find the Frodo, Sam & Gollum less interesting once one knows what happens next.

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

When I first read it, it was a secret vice. You weren’t supposed to mention liking it, a bit like you couldn’t mention if you enjoyed Abba. The films have made Tolkien more acceptable and mainstream. However, I probably wouldn’t recommend Tolkien to a stranger. You need to know a person’s taste before recommending Tolkien. There are still some diehard realists who don’t like fiction in which there is an element of fantasy. I’ve heard several people gave up on the TV series “Game of Thrones” as soon as the dragons appeared!


If you want more of Michael’s thoughts on Tolkien and other topics, visit his blog at http://www.eybirdwatching.blogspot.com/

Maria do Rosario Monteiro’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (51)

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 Maria do Rosario Monteiro 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 Maria do Rosario Monteiro’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

By a side comment made by Professor Sansonetti while giving a lecture on alchemy during my Master in Comparative Literature at Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, 30 years ago.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I do not have one! There are several: The LOR, The Cosmogonic myth in Silmarillion, “The fall of Númenor”, Unfinished Tales, etc.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

The discovery of multiple layers of intertwined myths

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

It changes every time I re-read it because in 30 years I have changed also.

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

Yes. There is a bunch of reasons I cannot outline in a single answer. Usually, it takes me a whole semester teaching it, and I never get to the bottom. There is no way anyone who reads Tolkien will not become a “re-reader.” And the movies are a different creation, using a different art, that does not substitute the books. My advice is always the same: first, read the book, create your inner image of each character and of the space, get the feeling of traveling WITH the hobbits. Then, see the movies. If one does not follow this order will lose forever the ability to became a sub-creator of Middle-earth, that is what readers are or should be. Do not lose the possibility of imagining your own Galadriel, your own Gandalf, etc.


For more thoughts on Tolkien and other topics from Maria do Rosario Monteiro, you can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Alex B’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (50)

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 Alex 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 Alex B’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My Dad read The Hobbit to me, and then, despite having some reservations, the Lord of the Rings. I can’t say exactly how young I was then, but I do remember that I certainly couldn’t manage to read the books myself yet.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

To be as succinct as possible: The truth of it.

To expand a bit more: The fully-realized secondary world, with palpable ancientry, geography, culture, language, and complexity. I think it’s dangerous to suggest fiction is only worthwhile–or even is most worthwhile–when it says things about our own selves, and our own world; and yet it must be said that Tolkien, in his fantasy, managed to depict our reality in a way that *feels* more true than almost any so-called realistic depiction. In that way he shows to be false the dichotomy between myth and our present lived experience, making our world all the more wondrous.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I remember vividly my “fall in love” moments, the successive eu/catastrophes in both The Hobbit and LOTR. But, if I can be a little cliché, the only possible answer is that every experience is my favorite, and none of them are. Having the books read to me and skipping school to see the first film with my Dad (I’m 30) will always be treasured bonding experiences; Tolkien’s Boethian (or at least Boethi-esque) depiction of fate and acting in the face of it, grieving yet grimly optimistic, have informed my general ethic and shaped how I’ve responded to hardship and tragedy in my adult life. (There was no doubt which author I would read while working on the one eulogy I’ve given; and there’s a reason that one eulogy had three lines that got laughs, and celebrated life in the face of promised death.) However, there is still a lot to be said for those quiet nights alone with an old paperback, stripped of any outside context.

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

Yes; and so has the way it approaches me, which is perhaps nearer to how I experience it. At first, I delighted in the adventure, the danger, and the great expansive travel. But now, having read everything I know to have been published with Tolkien’s name on the cover and consumed a massive amount of the related literature, podcasts, and lectures… well, I still delight in the adventure, the danger, and the great expansive travel. But I also appreciate the depth of scholarship baked into the fiction, as well as the ephemeral wisdom. There is beauty in the world–indeed, there always has been–and the fact that it will pass, as did that which came before, is no reason not to behold it all with wonder and gratitude.

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

I would, but I tend not to do so explicitly. My enthusiasm, I think, speaks loudly enough; and there’s some danger in insisting on a kind of genre canon. So long as the people I care about are reading things they care about, I’m happy.

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.


 

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!