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 Troels (or Parmakenta) and the other participants for this.
To see the idea behind this project, check out this page
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 Troels Forchhammer’s responses:
How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
I honestly do not remember how I was first introduced to Tolkien’s work. I do remember hearing of Tolkien’s death, which was less than two months before my seventh birthday, and I suspect that I had been reading The Hobbit by then (or had had it read aloud to me, though I would have been able to read it myself at that point).
Otherwise, my first certain memory is getting a set of Danish book club paperback editions of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion for my eighteenth birthday. I still have those books – particularly my The Lord of the Rings volumes are now in tatters because I read them again and again, but they have a place on my shelves.
My second introduction to Tolkien was by way of student colleague with whom I did a project for Computer Science at Uni. We met at his place for our work, and he had an English set of The Lord of the Rings that I borrowed. Reading that, I realised how much richer was the language and story in the original, and I was completely enchanted. The decade following that, I usually had at least one Tolkien book in English on loan from the public library in Copenhagen – then I bought my own first English edition just before the turn of the millennium: A nice Houghton-Mifflin hardback with large folding maps and Alan Lee illustrations on the dustwrapper.
What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I do not think that I can specify a single favourite part of Tolkien’s work – it is something that is depends on the situation, my mood, the purpose …
In some ways, my favourite part is Ulmo’s appearance to Tuor at Nevrast … his speech sends chills down my spine every time!
Or the Smith essay … “the love of Faery is the love of love” …
Or the alliterative poetry …
“Tide was turning. Timbers broken,
dead men and drowned, a dark jetsam,
were left to lie on the long beaches;
rocks robed with red rose from water.”
Or his description of Secondary Belief in On Fairy-stories which is the most precise description of my own reading experience that I know of.
Or the host praising Frodo (and Sam) at the Cormallen … brings tears to my eyes every time.
I do have some less favourite parts … the long Lay of Leithian in rhyming couplets is something I find impossible to read for more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time (making it quite an effort to get anywhere in that text). I also find that The Hobbit is one of my less favoured parts of Tolkien’s work, whereas The Lord of the Rings is definitely among my most favoured parts.
What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
My fondest experience of Tolkien’s work is another of those questions with many contending experiences. That first reading of The Lord of the Rings in English would count very high, as would the gradual discovery of the depth of the text and of other texts – discovering passages so beautiful that the sheer beauty of the language brings tears to my eyes, or passages so intricate and dense with ideas that unravelling them is a great puzzle.
My first encounters with good Tolkien criticism – Tom Shippey and Verlyn Flieger – are other very fond experiences. As a physicist, Tom and Verlyn have been instrumental in opening up for me new ways of looking at a text.
But perhaps the fondest experience has been the slow and gradual piecing together of many passages and other bits of information to produce an understanding of Tolkien and his work as he and it evolved throughout his life.
Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
The way I approach Tolkien’s work has changed quite a lot and many times.
The first change was brought on by reading The Lord of the Rings in the original language. The Danish translation is decent enough, and the story is, in and of itself, sufficiently captivating that I have read my first copy to tatters, but it does somewhat reduce the richness of the language, and suddenly getting this full range of tones and colours was, to me, far more significant than moving from black &white TV to colour TV (which we did in my youth). What are mere images to the beauty that is the written word!
For a number of years I looked at Tolkien’s world, desiring to know every knowable detail about this sub-creation. This was very much spurred on by joining the on-line Tolkien community around the turn of the millennium, and I started to read Tolkien’s other works to understand this world: Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth took me to another level, and I understood that the idea of a single “true” conception of Middle-earth is in and of itself a fallacy – a dangerous fallacy that obscures the nature of Tolkien’s legendarium.
Encountering proper criticism from the likes of Tom Shippey and Verlyn Flieger has changed my approach once more. Their desire to explore and understand the links between author, sub-creation, and text highly is contagious to me, later adding the context of the author (social, historical, physical, literary, etc.) to the mixture. The reader, however, does not really interest me – for me, the reader is only interesting as a source of errors to be eliminated (it may seem paradoxical that I nonetheless contribute here, but the fact that I am uninterested in the topic does not mean that I do not consider it a worthy topic of academic research – I merely insist that it is not a study of Tolkien).
Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I do not generally offer recommendations unless asked for them, but I would obviously gladly recommend Tolkien’s work to people whenever I have reasons to believe that they would enjoy it. I am careful to not recommend it to people whom I think would not enjoy it, and I tend to respect people for reacting negatively to Tolkien’s work – it is their right to find his work unbearable.
I am perfectly happy to tell people about my own passion for Tolkien, and (when they pretend just the tiniest interest 😉 ) shower them with information, but I hesitate to recommend Tolkien’s work unless they ask for recommendations (where to start, what to read next, etc.) – I am careful not to presume that others will like something that I like, even if we have other things in common.
For children, I would probably recommend Astrid Lindgren before Tolkien – not because Tolkien’s children’s books are bad, but because Lindgren in my honest opinion was far superior to Tolkien as a writer for children (here I have the advantage of being able to read both authors in their original language). Also, unfortunately neither of the Danish translations of The Hobbit is particularly good.
For more from Troels, you can follow the blog on his website, Parma-kenta!