Ed Pierce’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (133)

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 Ed 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 Ed Pierce’s responses:


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

When I was around six or seven years old a group who did dramatic readings of literature visited my elementary school and put on a performance. One of their readings was of the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter from The Hobbit. Shortly after that I discovered The Hobbit book in the public library and read it. I may have also had a vague recollection of the Rankin/Bass Return of the King TV movie which came out around this time (I was born in 1973, and the movie came out in 1980) although I don’t recall actually watching it before I read The Hobbit (perhaps this was a good thing). After reading The Hobbit, I promptly went out and bought The Lord of the Rings and read it as well. This was followed a few years later by Unfinished Tales, The Silmarillion, and then eventually the HOME series. A new volume of the latter would come out around October or November almost every year from 1983 until 1996, and starting with volume III, I’d usually get the latest volume for Christmas every year (it was always my favorite present each year!).

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

It’s hard to decide. Perhaps how deeply it touches upon the themes of loss, of friendship, and of doing what is right in the face of adversity.

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

Nothing probably beats the experience of reading The Lord of the Rings (not just the first time, but the increased appreciation and enjoyment with each re-reading), but I also have especially fond memories of my first time reading the Turin story (as it appeared it Unfinished Tales—I read this before I read the chapter on Turin in The Silmarillion), as well as the magical experience of reading Smith of Wootton Major for the first time.

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

Not really, except that obviously I can appreciate some of the adult themes now more than I did when I was younger.

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

Definitely (with some reservations). I have learned that many people don’t have the patience to read through The Silmarillion or similar works (it takes a certain amount of concentration, and—as Tom Shippey has pointed out—if you don’t make a concerted effort to keep track of everyone and learn their familial relation to one another, a lot of the richness will get lost on you early on), but I think that there are many people who would enjoy The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, or some of Tolkien’s lighter and/or shorter works (like Farmer Giles or Leaf by Niggle) if they give it a try. However, I’ve also learned that trying to foist something on someone often leads nowhere, so I rarely try to recommend Tolkien unless someone shows interest first in that direction.


For more from Ed, you can find him on Facebook!

Dom Lane’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (132)

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 Dom 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 Dom Lane’s responses:


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

My mother had loved The Lord of the Rings when it came out in the 50s. I was an avid reader from a young age and she bought me a copy of The Hobbit when I was eight. This would have been in 1971. I moved on to The Lord of the Rings as an 11 year old in 1974.

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

What a tough question! The richness of the work probably, the vast creative backstory.

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

Reading his letters for the gaps they fill in, and the insight into the man.

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

Most definitely. We’ve been together now for nearly 50 years, and what started out as a bringing to life legendary elements I was familiar with from Norse and Celtic myths, has become a many faceted engagement, as I played D&D from the early 70s, then Runequest, then studied literature at university, lived in Wellington as Jackson started and finished his work, joined the TS – I find now I can dip in and out of his work, and works about him, savouring them with the wisdom (if I can be so bold) – or at least insight – of years.

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

I have done so on many, many occasions, to family and friends, young and old.

Maureen Smiley’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (131)

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 Maureen 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 Maureen Smiley’s responses:


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

I was 12 when my brother recommended The Lord of the Rings. This was in 1967. He was in his first year at Stanford University, California.

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

Reading The Fellowship the first time it seemed really slow to take off, but the second and subsequent readings (there have been too many to count) have made the journey to Bree my favorite part of the entire book.

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

Meeting with other readers of Tolkien was always wonderful, and the exercise of memorizing the journey bit by bit so I could image it in my mind was excellent.

Also when out in the mountains hiking I could imagine the long walk of Frodo and companions easily.

I find the creative journey of great art always fascinating.

As a musician, I really enjoy listening to the music of the films, though I don’t like the films themselves. Also the music of Morning in Rivendell by the Tolkien Ensemble is very inspiring

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

The last 20 years I have been gathering up all the Tolkien Literature I can find. But now I am more interested in early Tolkien and the fresh inspiration those works have. I am a non-religious person and it is difficult sometimes to overlook the overtly religious contingent of Tolkien fandom and also the militaristic interpretation of some of the fandom. I realize this is inevitable but it does make for a less inspiring outreach than I am comfortable with. Thus, I am reading more in a bubble than I used, ie. isolating from societies and fandom.

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

I always recommend Tolkien to people who are interested in Trees and wilderness and walking on long adventures.

It is so important to me to write about Tolkien’s use of language and his masterful storytelling skill.  But also to say that LOTR and the Silmarillion are masterpieces of literature, and that is why I am careful to recommend the books to others.  It is intense reading that involves so many layers of study in its secondary world structure and meaning. I owe a great deal of my inner imagination, as an artist and a musician, to the influence of these works. The study of the power of language and the musical sound of the words has been a big influence on me as well.  

I feel that reading Tolkien for fifty odd years has made me a much smarter person!

Raphael’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (130)

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 Raphael 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 Raphael’s responses:


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

Via my father.

He is a big fan of mostly Science Fiction with the occasional forays into Fantasy, and as avid a reader and book collector as they come. When I was little, he used to drop mysterious names like Bilbo and Frodo the hobbits, Gimli the dwarf, Boromir the man, Gandalf the wizard, Legolas the elf, and hint at their epic exploits. I remember those names already sounding like adventure to me, and being immensely frustrated when he wouldn’t tell me their entire story right then and there. (I have since forgiven him.)

Eventually, he gave me a German edition of The Hobbit to read (the small format dtv junior paperback edition with Klaus Ensikat’s magnificent butterfly-winged Smaug on the cover!), and that was it for me. If my memory serves me right, it would be a bit before he gave me The Lord of the Rings to read (that characteristic green German paperback edition), and then The Silmarillion. We’d then have the occasional re-reads of it all, the release of the new German translation, and then I’d ‘graduate’ to English editions.

In retrospect, that last step happened surprisingly late – I must have been in my early to mid-twenties when a then-girlfriend gave me a paperback box set after snooping out that I hadn’t read Tolkien in English yet, despite my reading having pivoted to original texts instead of translations for English/American literature years before.

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

Just one?

If I have to narrow it down that much, I’d choose that the legendarium is not ‘just’ literary text, but text that has in-universe authors written into it, as well as different variants of a fictional manuscript tradition explaining in-universe how these books ended up in our hands. That makes the texts into something much more like ‘fictional artefacts,’ with their double layer of ‘literariness.’ To me, this makes for the most interesting and rewarding way of reading them because it gives the text’s narration a perspective of its own – a hobbit’s perspective on matters of the world outside the Shire, an elf-affine perspective on who is who in the universe, a cumulative scribes’ perspective on a personal account, or if we accept Aelfwine as a middle-man for The Silmarillion, a 10th century man’s perspective that explains how through millenia of history and highest craft, warriors remained clad in coats of mail.

All in all, I wish Tolkien’s transformative influence on the genre included a bit more of that, the artificial myth aspect, rather than just the high fantasy trappings of elves, dwarves, halflings, and orcs.

Beyond this aspect, there are many motifs or parts I like a lot. How Thorin acknowledges to Bilbo the value of the apparently unheroic hobbit way of life on his deathbed, and it being that same hobbit way of life that makes the Ring’s sway over Sam so weak – weaker than even over wise Gandalf! The big tragedy of Húrin’s family also speaks a lot to my old goth heart. And everything dwarves is an instant win in my book. (The fact that we get so little of them and their status in creation being that of a step-child ties in neatly with reading the texts as coming from a perspective dominated by elven lore, doesn’t it?)

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

Overall, I guess it is whenever I get to discuss the hell out of a random facet of a Tolkien work with a fellow fan. For one, there is always something new to learn from listening to how somebody else read those same passages, especially someone looking at them from a completely different perspective and lived experience.

And I just love digging deep and comparing notes on what exactly we think it means that Tom Bombadil speaks in verse in a world created as music made real. Or where we stand on and arrange ourselves with the themes of Noldorian colonialism, the hobbit classism exhibited in Frodo’s and Sam’s relationship, the many racist descriptions of nonwhite ethnicities, and so on. Or whether or not to stan Boromir and why.

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

Oh, definitely! You can’t step in the same river twice, after all.

Reading the texts for the first time when I was young, I was reading enjoyable fantasy adventure stories. Then I got really into the worldbuilding, trying to suss out all the details. Somewhere in between these two, I was a young lad reading them for their clout in the genre. (That turned out to be not very rewarding. 1/10 do not recommend.) Eventually, I came upon that notion of how much fictional perspective is in the texts, and it uprooted much of how I read them previously.

As an amateur artist, reading the texts for inspiration is a recurring thing. As an enthusiast of bowyery and archery, I started a complete read-through gathering all mentions of bow and arrow, descriptions of their use, armour worn against them, and so on. And finally, during my studies in Digital Humanities at uni, Tolkien’s work often featured either as a test bed for methods or an inspiration for term papers.

These are just the bigger currents that come to mind – but every re-read makes something subtly different stand out, or a well-known turn of phrase reveal something new, and therefore constitutes something like a new mini-approach.

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

Overall, yes, because I believe there is something there for most people who are at least a little receptive to Fantasy. But it is important to remain aware that things can not click for all kinds of reasons.

Being able to share something I feel deeply about with somebody else is too good an experience to abstain from recommending just because it might not appeal, though. That we now have not only the books, but also Peter Jackson’s high-profile films and soon Amazon’s series as a gateway is a big boon.

For fans of the genre, I’d consider Tolkien essential reading at the very least because he was such a defining influence on Fantasy that we now have to make explicit when we are talking about the pre-Tolkien flavour of it. It’s like Blade Runner for fans of cyberpunk-y Science Fiction films – there are plenty reasons it might not end up a personal favourite, but it’s worth watching at least once to see what became the DNA that’s now woven through the entire field of things you enjoy. And what of it didn’t.


For more about Tolkien and other literature from Raphael, visit Twiter!

Mel’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (129)

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 Mel 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 Mel’s responses:


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

My mum introduced me to Tolkien’s work as a young child. We borrowed most of our books from the library, but we owned copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I remember poring over the maps early on and as an avid reader, I finished The Hobbit when I was around 9 and tackled The Lord of the Rings at 11. That first attempt wasn’t hugely successful as I didn’t really understand the themes so I reread it again four more times over the years and each time, enjoyed it more and more. Subconsciously, I suspect that Tolkien also affected my education as I ended up reading English Language and Literature at Leeds University.

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

I’m enthralled by the stretch of history, culture and landscape in Tolkien’s books. The scope is truly epic and leaves you with the promise of a much larger world. There’s always the sense of the great beyond – in the past, present and future, which is something that very few novels achieve. The West and the Undying Lands are of special interest. They represent that universal longing for a purer, safer existence in the afterlife or in another realm. Tolkien was a genius at capturing our deepest wishes and fears and embedding them in story.

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

My fourth reading of The Lord of the Rings in my mid-twenties was totally immersive. I didn’t want to leave Middle-earth and I didn’t have to because the films came out shortly afterwards. My husband, Al and I went to see them every year just after we started going out with each other and so Tolkien has become part of our family history (he also inherited his copies of the books from older family members). Our 7-year-old daughter is too young to read the books, but she has seen snippets of the film adaptations and knows who the key characters are.

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

Strangely, I’m now reluctant to explore Tolkien’s fictional worlds too deeply because I want to preserve that sense of the unknown. I’ve dipped into The Silmarillion over the years but rather than adding to the mystique of Middle-earth, I’ve found that it diminishes it for me. I’m interested in Tolkien as an academic and illustrator though so these are areas that I’ll continue to explore.

Every reading of his work has been subtly different depending on my outlook at the time. Lately I’ve become more aware of the shortcomings in his writing, particularly the lack of strong female characters and potential issues around depiction of race. Although these aspects haven’t put me off a sixth reread, I think it’s important to consider them as part of an evolving literary landscape.

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

Tolkien’s work is an essential for any fantasy fiction fan and it’s uplifting to see that his books are still very popular with the YA community on Bookstagram (the bookish arm of Instagram). Readers see his work as part of the literary canon and reading The Lord of the Rings is pretty much a rite of passage. I think all serious bibliophiles should try to read his work at least once.


For more about Tolkien and other literature from Mel, visit her website!

Dean Abercrombie’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (128)

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 Dean 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 Dean Abercrombie’s responses:


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

My father introduced me to it when he was reading The Hobbit and LOTR in the late 1970s. He also had a copy of The Hobbit illustrated with images from the Rankin and Bass film. I was about 10 years old at the time and not familiar with the fantasy genre. I was initially drawn to the illustrated edition.

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

Before I read The Silmarillion, the courting of Faramir and Eowyn was probably my favorite. Currently, I most enjoy the Ainulindale.

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

In my second reading of LOTR, when I was in college, I experienced my first real emotional connection to Tolkien’s writing. The farewell at Grey Havens saddened me significantly because I felt like I had really come to know the characters and the realization of saying goodbye to them was emotional. I had not previously experienced such feelings from literature.

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

Yes. In the last year or so I have been trying to take a more academic approach. While not a writer myself, I have become very interested in Tolkien’s writing process, as well as the influences and inspirations that contributed to the lore he created.

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

Certainly. I have purchased The Hobbit and LOTR for my own children, my siblings, and their children. Tolkien has created a world that I find engrossing and I am proud to share with others.


You can connect with Dean on Facebook!

Peter Turecek’s Experience– Tolkien Experience Project (127)

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 Peter 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 Peter Turecek’s responses:


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

When I was roughly 10 years old, my father gave me the Abrams Artbooks large paperback edition of The Hobbit, which was illustrated with pictures from the Rankin Bass movie.  I read that book to pieces, quite literally—pages started to fall from the glue binding because I read it so much.  I read The Lord of the Rings a couple of years later and then tackled, unsuccessfully, The Silmarillion

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

It’s the vivid storytelling.  His writing makes you FEEL and you are transported to and immersed in his world, so much richer at heart for the experience. 

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

For me it’s the quiet heroism of the hobbits—Bilbo, Frodo, Sam. They’re not looking for glory and renown.  They are simply trying to help to make the world a better place by their actions. The author Patrick Rothfuss summed it up well: “The truth is that the world is full of dragons, and none of us are as powerful or cool as we’d like to be. And that sucks. But when you’re confronted with that fact, you can either crawl into a hole and quit, or you can get out there, take off your shoes, and Bilbo it up.”

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

Tolkien has been there for me throughout my life. His works have been a refuge, a comfort, a spark of courage, an escape, and an inspiration, all at different times. I remember during childhood injuries or illnesses being laid up in bed, reading The Hobbit or LOTR or even once listening to the BBC radio play of LOTR, helping to make the time pass so quickly. I remember reading LOTR annually in high school, at times torn by self doubt, the fiery heights and deep doldrums of teen romance, or perceived parallel paths of new adventures, all mirroring life moments.  

In high school and college, I started to take a more analytical bent, broadening to other Tolkien works and writing papers related to Tolkien for English or Religion or other courses. 

On my first trip ever to London in the mid 1990s as a new analyst, I found a signed first edition of The Hobbit!  I kick myself for passing on it but it was literally half of my annual salary at the time (and that was before the movies had been announced). I did finally start some collecting, including UK first editions of LOTR and a signed copy of The Road Goes Ever On.

I’ve also found moments of irony in my life via Tolkien. Almost six month after triple bypass surgery, I realized that the date of my open heart surgery was October 6th, the same day Frodo was stabbed on Weathertop, the wound ultimately making him wiser for the experience. (Let’s hope I took away some wisdom of my own!)

As a private pilot, when I was able to finally buy myself an airplane, I named it Gwaihir. The link to the blog entry of the naming contest is here.

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

Absolutely and unconditionally. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ll introduce it at the very least.  I tried to introduce my wife to The Hobbit, reading aloud to her.  Unfortunately (fortunately?!), we found that my voice (not Tolkien) was a strong sleep aid for her.

Maria Zielenbach’s Experience – Tolkien Experience (126)

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 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 Zielenbach’s responses:


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

My mother read The Hobbit to me and my brother when I was very young (under 6) and I do not remember it at all. When I was about 8, my uncle lent the German radio play of The Lord of the Rings to my brother. I remember very well when my brother asked me to listed to the scene at the Gates of Moria and had me try the riddle – I failed 😀 However, I do not recall listening to the Mount Doom scene for the first time – I sometimes joke that in my world the Ring has always been destroyed.

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

I really like all the stories related to Númenor and the Second Age in general. My favourite scene, however, is the one at the Barrow-downs since I enjoy this kind of horror a lot.

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

I met a lot of awesome people (some of my closest friends now) through Tolkien related events. Tolkien fans seem to be a very special kind of species – a very great one actually 😀

When it comes to a very personal moment, I very fondly recall reading the biography by Humphrey Carpenter for the first time. I realized how many of Tolkien’s thoughts and views on Myths and languages I had unknowingly shared with him for a long time. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I like his works so much.

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

As I told before, I started out with the radio play of The Lord of the Rings, next came the radio play of The Hobbit. After that, when I was about 13, I tried to read The Lord of the Rings in German – and hated it. But fortunately, I had also taken The Silmarillion from the library and that was much more to my taste. Perhaps the problem was the German translations of The Lord of the Rings (I still do not like them today). I never read The Lord of the Rings in full until I was about 20 and well established in the Tolkien Fan scene. Only then I tried the English original and the spirit took over, so to say. So the change was from Silmarillion to The Lord of the Rings.

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

I regularly recommend Tolkien to both friends and the public when I visit events with the German Tolkien Society. I think The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings still rank very high on the list of the best Fantasy books ever published, and I am specially trying to convince people who have only seen the movies that the books a worth a read. I have encountered several people in Germany who, like me, struggle with the translations but enjoyed the original a lot better. I also think that with Tolkien a ‘holistic’ access to Fantasy literature is not possible. Most Fantasy (and Science Fiction) authors, consciously or unconsciously, make reference to Tolkien’s works or consider them as common knowledge of their readers.


You can find more from Maria on Twitter!

Joel Merriner’s Experience – Tolkien Experience (125)

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 Joel 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 Joel Merriner’s responses:


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

I first encountered Tolkien’s work when I was around eight years old, whilst rummaging through the second-hand book stall at my primary school jumble sale. Among the old paperbacks I came across a 1966 edition of The Hobbit (priced 10 pence), the one with the famous Death of Smaug drawing on the cover. Two things struck me immediately about this book; firstly I had never seen a book with a real live drawing on the cover (I failed to realise it was a printed image until I got it home and looked a little closer) and secondly what kind of person sticks a price label right in the middle of a dragon’s head?

Reading The Hobbit eventually lead me to the local library where I began searching the shelves for other Tolkien works. First, I found Humphrey Carpenter’s Tolkien biography, but this was far too dry and dusty for me to tackle. What the biography succeeded in doing however was alert me to the existence of The Lord of the Rings which then became the focus of my search. Unfortunately, all I could find in the library was a battered hard-back copy of The Return of the King so I read that first, using the faithful synopsis to bring me up to speed with the plot. Later, I borrowed copies of the first two volumes from a family friend. It is strange, but during the week I was reading RotK my Dad was decorating the house and there was white paint being splashed everywhere, including on my library book. Whenever I smell emulsion now it takes me back to that first Middle-earth journey.

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

For me it is the evocation of landscape, and if I were to pick a passage in his works where that touches me most it would be the LotR chapter “Three is Company.” The hobbits’ tramp over the fields and lanes of the Shire is so beautifully described, the bucolic scenes tempered by the creeping menace of the Black Rider, played out both in “real time” on the woodland path and in flashback via Sam’s Gaffer anecdote. And then of course, we have added attractions of the inquisitive fox and the arrival of Gildor Inglorion to lift the shadow.

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

As a young reader obsessed with drawing it would be the many hours spent creating cartoon strips and battle maps based on the made-up adventures of characters from “The Line of the Dwarves of Erebor” family tree in “Appendix A” of RotK. Their names sparked my artistic imagination like nothing I had previously encountered and became a springboard for many subsequent creative endeavours.

More recently I would say my fondest experience has been sharing the stories afresh with my daughter. Reading The Hobbit, LotR and Farmer Giles of Ham together has been both fantastic and eye-opening. Watching her formulate her own Tolkien-inspired stories and art (including some fiendishly complex Dwarvish inscriptions) has also been a wonderful highlight.

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

In certain ways, yes. From my first encounter with The Hobbit cover image my approach to the material has been rooted in visuality. When reading the books it has always been the images evoked in my mind, the sights of landscape and material culture that have dominated. Originally this would translate into the creation of my own artistic interpretations, painting, comic strips and illustration.

However, in recent years as my career has altered trajectory in favour of an academic approach to Tolkien so my focus has shifted to other people’s visual responses to the legendarium. By this I do not refer simply to those people engaged in illustrating Tolkien’s work, but also to the viewers of those illustrations. How textual and visual motifs combine in the mind to create meaning for the viewer is now central to my analysis of the material.

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

Yes, and no. Yes, because I love the work and it has given me so much over the years it would feel remiss not to do so. On the other hand, no, because often it is better to discover something for yourself. This is how I first encountered Tolkien, and it imparted a strong sense of ownership – “This is my world, I found it by myself.” I still feel like that today. But not in a Gollum sense.


You can find more from Joel Merriner on his blog or on Twitter!

Abram Gregory’s Experience – Tolkien Experience Project (124)

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 Abram 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 Abram Gregory’s responses:


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

As a kid I had weaved in and out between fantasy and science fiction, having been raised a fervent fan of Harry Potter and eventually falling for Star Wars on my own. My family went to the midnight releases of each Harry Potter book as long as I could remember, and while I loved each book, I always wanted more to be said of the roles of wizards and mythical creatures. I had gone several years exhaustively poring over Star Wars movies, paperbacks, and video-games, when one day, when I was just barely a teen, an aesthetically pleasing novel caught my eye in the bookstore. It depicted a wizard with a staff auspiciously walking toward an interesting-looking house burrowed into the side of a hill. Over a decade later, Middle-earth has never ceased to capture my intrigue.

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

The Hobbit is undoubtedly my favorite Tolkien work so far, though I’m mid-read of The Silmarillion, so this could be subject to change. I’ve read The Hobbit over a half-dozen times and hope to one day read it in Spanish and Irish Gaelic as well as English, just to re-live my first time being immersed in Hobbiton as much as can be replicated. Though the Irish translation of the work, An Hobad, still collects dust on my bookshelf as my proficiency in the language improves, the Irish version of Thorin’s map is permanently with me in the form of a tattoo, which reads “Talamh Bánaithe Smóg”—roughly, “The Desolation of Smaug.”

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

My fondest experience of Tolkien’s work was a visit to the Morgan Library in New York City, which was exhibiting a Tolkien exhibit with artifacts on loan from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I live a train’s ride away from the city, and I felt like an excited little kid again. As the train car traversed the springtime Hudson Valley, I could not help but feel as though I was exiting the Shire, on the way for a grand day trip, personal copy of The Hobbit in hand. I was within the first dozen people in line for a several-hour wait before the museum opened, and my love for Tolkien’s work was paralleled by that of the elderly professor in line behind me. Indeed, our enthusiasm could only have been exceeded by the devotion the professor’s wife must have had for him, given that she committed to accompanying him for the day without having read a single word of Tolkien, but just wanting to see her husband enjoy the frenzy of fans of all ages. Either that, or she had no idea what she was getting into. The exhibit itself was lovely, containing memorabilia and papers from Tolkien’s family life, career as a medievalist, and all things Middle-earth. It was truly gratifying to point to the original drawing of Smaug in Tolkien’s own hand, and then compare it to its reproduction tattooed on my arm. After spending several hours in the exhibit, I just barely escaped the gift shop’s temptation to stock up on Hobbiton’s Meadow Mint tea blend, a blend I’d recommend to anybody.

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

I’m too young to have undergone the experience of re-reading Tolkien at different phases of life and discovering new philosophical meaning each time, as my fencing coach assures me I someday will. However, as I approach completing my undergraduate studies in English, studying Old English in an academic setting has given me a newfound appreciation for the aesthetic and linguistic background for the cultures of humans in Middle-earth. Moreover, as I begin my undergraduate thesis on Tolkien and Middle-earth, I hope that further study of Old English, Tolkien’s linguistic work, and further reading of the legendarium can allow me to draw new conclusions about world-building and storytelling that I can implement in my own future career as a writer and academic.

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

Not only would I recommend Tolkien’s work, but I hope to one day give my children the fantastical experiences with Middle-earth that my parents used Harry Potter’s wizarding world in order to inspire me. At its barest level, Thorin’s companions and the later Fellowship provide positive reconstructions of masculinity that ought to be emulated in the next generation of young men, and examples of strong women in and out of positions of power can be inspirations for girls and young women as well. Through various heroes Middle-earth embody traditional values of valor and honor through meaningful violence as in earlier medieval literature, such violence is preserved only as a last resort. Moreover, though I am not religious, Tolkien deploys the two most important aspects of Christian theology that all people can benefit from pondering: that the most important and profound force compelling humans can and ought to be love; and that peeling back the seemingly senseless thrum of day-to-day life through lore and introspection can tell us about the meaningful, if not the spiritual.


You can find more from Abram Gregory on Instagram!