Linda Jones’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (185)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Linda Joness responses:


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

My aunt gave me a copy of The Hobbit when I was 10, but I didn’t get past first chapter. Then the teacher started reading it, and I was hooked.

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

I think it is the whole sub-creation that spans so much- the books, art, films, music, games, each part just adds to the immersive experience, and basically feeds the need to know/read/see more. I think that’s why I’ve spent so much on Tolkien merchandise over the years, because it makes you feel part of it, and it makes it tangible.

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

When I was 16, and absolutely obsessed, I found the Tolkien Society, and suddenly I wasn’t the only one (this was before the internet!). I went on some moots and to Oxford, and, by sticking up posters to form a local ‘smail ’ met one of my best friends. We are still close 35 years later!

And the release of the films! I remember when Amon Hen was filled with ‘who would you cast’ posts, but never thought it would be a reality. For three years it would become an event. I’d always go the first time myself, to drink it in, then a few of us would go as part of build up to xmas, with plenty of sweets and a sneaky plastic bottle of wine.

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

I think it has matured. As a teenager I was quite obsessed, then life sort of took over, as it does, and though still a huge fan, it was subdued. Recently it’s like the flame has been kindled again, and I take an active interest in online forums, have rejoined the Tolkien Society. I am rereading The Silmarillion, slowly, interspersed with resources such as the Prancing Pony Podcast, and appreciating the whole story but also pondering themes and language, and just a deeper level of understanding/ appreciation. It’s fascinating to read the online discussions and fan takes in terms of gender, sexuality, etc., and how a young generation has embraced the works but also interpreted it. I might not agree with all of it, but I think it is brilliant. I know some people feel strongly that it’s non-canon and not what Tolkien meant, but I remember reading something about how Tolkien wanted to write a mythology that would inspire creativity and interpretation. And the fact that different people love the stories, but are reframing it to make sense of their world and making it relevant to them now, without losing the central tenants (to me) of friendship, hope, triumph over evil/ adversity is brilliant. It means it will continue to be read and enjoyed and inspire.

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

Definitely! Because it’s just an amazing story, with so much depth and variety in the whole of the legendarium. It’s given me so much joy, comfort, friendship and inspiration over the years. But bottom line is that LOTR by itself is just a bloody brilliant book!


You can read more from Linda on Twitter!

David Emerson’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (184)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to David Emerson’s responses:


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

Unlike most people younger than me, I first encountered Tolkien when he was virtually unknown in the U.S. This was long before the publications of the paperback editions (the controversial Ace editions, then the authorized Ballantine editions), which thrust them into the public eye, especially on college campuses and among the hippie element (of which I certainly counted myself).

My mother was in the habit of reading bedtime stories to my brothers and me, when each of us was too young to read them ourselves. By the time she got to my youngest brother Ed, we had been through all the children’s books in the house and all the Oz books in the public library, so she casually mentioned to her friend Lydia that she was running out of things to read her son, and asked if she had any suggestions. Lydia’s husband had close family in England, so they had made many trips over there, and had brought back books. Lydia said to my mother, “Hmm, try this,” and plucked a hardback of The Hobbit off her shelf.

As Mom started reading this book to Ed, I would overhear it as I passed by the bedroom door, and it seemed interesting enough that I would stand at the door and listen, even though I was about 14 at the time. After a few nights of this, I realized, “Duh! I don’t have to wait for tomorrow night, I can read the thing myself!” So I started reading ahead, and was entranced by this wonderful fairy tale. When I got to the end and read those portentous words, “If you are interested in Hobbits you will learn a lot more about them in The Lord of the Rings,” I was very excited and asked Lydia if she had those books. She did, and loaned them to me, and that was that! I was suddenly an avid Tolkien fan.

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

I have no permanent “favorite part” any more than I have a permanent favorite song or favorite movie. It changes all the time.

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

Reading it for the first time.

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

Definitely. At first, it was just so wonderful being swept up in the fantasy of Middle-earth: I had the “Come to Middle-earth!” poster on my wall, I pored over the maps in the backs of the hardbacks, I wrote notes to myself using the Elvish letters from Appendix E. Then when I met more people who had read and enjoyed it, I wanted to talk about it endlessly. Later, I wanted to know more about Tolkien himself, and what other writers had to say, so I read Carpenter’s biography, and the collected Letters and what few analytical books and articles existed at the time. More recently, I have been more interested in the body of literary criticism about Tolkien, reading scholars like Shippey, Flieger, Garth, etc., and attending conferences of the Tolkien Society and the Mythopoeic Society to discuss such works with friends, and even write some of my own research papers. And finally, due to my participation in online discussion groups, I now find myself re-reading The Lord of the Rings once again and appreciating it possibly more than I ever have before.

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

Years ago, I would have said “Yes!” overwhelmingly. But as Tolkien’s popularity grew, it spawned an entire new genre of fantasy, and it seemed that anyone who was interested in that type of fantasy would either have already read Tolkien or would have their own opinion about whether they’d like it or not, so my recommendation wouldn’t be much use. Now, of course, everybody in the world knows about Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, so recommending Tolkien is like recommending air.

On the other hand, there are still newcomers who have only seen the films and are just starting to read the books, and for them I would recommend starting with The Lord of the Rings and then The Hobbit; if they are sufficiently intrigued by the hints of back-story, then I would steer them to *parts* of The Silmarillion, with the warning to expect it to be more like a history than a novel. And I would definitely urge them to read the non-Middle-earth stories “Farmer Giles of Ham,” “Smith of Wooton Major,” and “Leaf by Niggle.”

Then for those who have read as much of Tolkien’s fiction as they can get their hands on, I would recommend the academics: Shippey, Flieger, and Garth to start with. Glyer and Duriez for insight on the Inklings. Essay collections from Walking Tree and the Mythopoeic Press.

Catherine Madsen’s Experience– Tolkien Experience Project (183)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Catherine Madsen’s responses:


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

I can’t improve on my mother’s account, though it’s a bit long:

“As for The Hobbit, I’ll have to take the credit or the blame for introducing you to that book. It happened like this. I was in a graduate library science seminar with my favorite L[ibrary]S[cience] professor one summer [probably 1961]. She divided the class up and gave us the task of coming up with a project that would enrich or strengthen our work and the profession. There was a children’s literature expert at Wayne [State] who was internationally known, named Dr. Eloise Ramsey. My partner and I decided we wanted to interview her and see what her recommendations were for the top, not to be missed, books for children. We would get her permission to duplicate the list and share it with the hundred or so school librarians in the seminar. There was only one problem. She had the reputation of being unpredictable, irascible and generally unapproachable. Certainly her image did not encourage queries. She had never read How to Dress for Success, but went around in cotton house dresses and socks. Our professor approved the project, saying that if we managed to get the interview it would indeed be a contribution.

“I was determined, after all I had another motivation, my darling daughter, for whom I wanted nothing but the best. My partner was game if I was. I made the phone call and very respectfully broached the project, stressing how helpful the bibliography would be. She made an appointment to see us and got so interested that she offered to give a presentation at the seminar, which was excellent and well received, and her top pick was The Hobbit.

“When it was sure we were going to Alaska I bought The Hobbit thinking that we would read it aloud evenings by the light of the Coleman lantern since it was also about a journey, but you wanted the familiar Wind in the Willows since you were dealing with the unfamiliar every day and I think you were right. Later when you were settled in you chose to read it and fell in love with it.

“p.s. The university hung on to Dr. Ramsey, socks and all, in the hope that when she died she would leave the library her fabulous children’s literature collection which she did.”

(Winifred Madsen, e-mail correspondence 04 May 2012.) 

My mother actually did read me the first several chapters during our first months in Alaska, making up tunes for the songs as she went along. By then I knew what a journey was, and pretty soon I devoured the rest of the book on my own and fell into a stupor of northernness from which I have never recovered. Inhaling The Lord of the Rings a year later only compounded it. This was in 1962/63, and I never met anyone else who had read the books (unless I told them to) until I went to college in 1969. There was one other family in Fairbanks that checked the books out of the library when I didn’t have them; I never knew who they were.

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

I can’t approach it that way; it’s like being asked to name your favorite piece of music. Reading The Hobbit and especially The Lord of the Rings, there in Alaska, changed me from an urban little girl all ready to be obsessed with boys and movie stars to an introspective kid with a religious sensibility and a feeling for trees and mountains. There’s a Yup’ik Eskimo expression I learned decades later, “When I first became aware”; it was like that, or like Wordsworth’s gaining a “sense of unknown modes of being.” The languages, the mighty landscapes, the sense of longing, the sense of loss—even the political tensions, like the bargaining over the Arkenstone or the strategic workings of Denethor’s mind—all of it added up to a world, a powerful source of strength and freshness and a moral demand. I felt trusted to have an intelligence and a soul.

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

“Fondest” doesn’t quite compute, any more than “favorite.” Perhaps I need to go to the social level to answer that question. That would be my first meeting with the Tolkien Fellowship at Michigan State University. They had an annual Frodo and Bilbo’s Birthday celebration, which began with a walk in the campus woodlot while singing A Elbereth Gilthoniel to the English tune “Lovely Joan” (which Virginia Dabney, one of their founders, had swiped from Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves). I felt I had finally found my people. In the long run of course it was more complicated than that, but I’m glad I spent my college years with them and not with the druggies or the political radicals; in spite of the emotional upheavals and missteps common to young nerds, we had a kind of equilibrium, a sense of what mattered. That remains, whenever I’m in contact with one of those people—a profound core of shared experience and mutual understanding.

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

Certainly—there’s a great difference between an eleven-year-old swept away by the beauty of language and imaginary landscapes and an adult with critical faculties and a wider experience of literature. But Tolkien holds up to adult sensibilities better than I feared he might, and perhaps (for a certain kind of kid) even helps to develop adult sensibilities. By the time I was fourteen I had tracked down “The Monsters and the Critics” and “On Fairy-Stories,” and being primed by the imaginary scholarship of the appendices I was excited to encounter real scholarship for the first time. When I was in my twenties Tolkien’s letters appeared, and I was moved to see the sophistication and humanity of his political thinking and the range of his interests. It’s been a pleasure (and a relief) to see Tolkien criticism become more and more substantive.

Perhaps the thing that most strikes me now is the sense of Tolkien’s voice as a father’s voice—not just the silly authorial asides in The Hobbit or the weaving-in of themes and characters and phrases and in-jokes from The Hobbit into The Lord of the Rings, but the way the story grows from a homelike amusement to something big and dangerous, so that by the time you’ve finished you’ve had a full course in responsibility and moral gravity and intercultural tensions and making decisions without enough information and living with the consequences, and humility and wonder and hope and brokenness and heartbrokenness and bereavement. He’s a father who wants you to grow up. That doesn’t mean the story is only for children; it means there are discoveries to make in it even as an adult.

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

Always.

There will always be people who won’t like it—who are too guarded, for one reason or another, to sense its complexity and power—but it’s now clear that there are people all over the world who are moved and somehow guided by it, and I wouldn’t want anyone to miss the chance of reading it in case it might take them in that way.


You can read more from Catherine Madsen on her blog!

Deniz Bevan’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (182)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Deniz Bevan’s responses:


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

My parents had a paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings. Now that I think about it, I seem to remember reading The Hobbit first, but I can’t remember if they had a copy or if I found it in the school library. I was 11, and have been rereading The Lord of the Rings at least once a year since then (over 30 years)!

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

That’s very difficult to choose. I love the poetry, the humour, the grand sweep, and the small moments.

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

So many things! Being so moved by the poems that I had to read them aloud (lucky I was alone at a train station at the time!). Discovering the History of Middle-Earth books as a teenager and being excited by how much there was to read! Finally getting to go to my first Tolkien Society event (Tolkien 2019). Reading Mr Bliss to my young daughter for the first time…

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

I don’t think so. I’m still just as affected by the stories, in a good way. But it’s lovely to be more involved with the Tolkien Society than I was when I was younger.

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

Definitely! I have a few friends who think his writing is description-heavy, and I’m always trying to explain both that it’s not and that even if it is, it’s all wonderful! I also go on quite a bit about the worldbuilding, and how well all the history, language, and stories come together. One of my favourite subjects!


You can read more from Deniz Bevan on their blog!

Tim “Ranatuor” Bolton’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (181)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Tim Bolton’s responses:


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

I can squarely lay the blame of my love for Tolkien solely on my older brother, Paul. It would have been his copy of The Hobbit I read. My memory is hazy but I was likely about eight years old. I loved The Hobbit, the story awakened something in me, but I will admit I found The Lord of the Rings harder to tackle and I was in my early teens when I finally read that – I blame the Shire, after the Hobbit I wanted more adventure, so wasn’t quite ready to spend too long with pastoral Hobbits. That has changed, now I am older. I was born a few months after we sadly lost J.R.R. Tolkien, so I was the generation growing up just as gaming in Tolkien hit new heights. My connection with Tolkien, as a young boy, was strengthened by gaming. I have fond memories of the Commodore 64 version of The Hobbit (1982), “Gandalf goes West” and “Thorin sits down and sings about gold” are phrases I still jokingly use. Though those bulbous eyes in the Mirkwood Forest were the bane of me. It all seemed to happen around the same time, probably about 1984. My older brother got the Middle-earth Roleplaying game (1984) and I spent hours looking through the books. I think it was around then that Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings (1978) either came on TV or on VHS. It was a great time to be a young Tolkien fan (and a gamer). 

Sadly, at the end of 2019 my older brother lost his battle against struggles with mental health. If there is one thing that has helped me through that, it is all the things he got me into – Tolkien, gaming/rolelplaying, just trying to be a decent person (like the heroes in the books) and helping others.  

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

That is hard to pin down, it’s multiple things. As a young boy, a sense of adventure and exploration. The map of Wilderland just blew me away. It still does. As I grew older, the Fellowship itself draws me, the friendship – something I feel missing from my own life, a tight-knit group of friends who stick together. I have friends, but scattered all over the place. If there is one thing that draws me really in, it’s the land itself, Middle-earth – the places out there to explore, ruins of past places, the supernatural elements, monsters, the varied cultures. Tolkien’s art is gorgeous and helps visualising it all.  

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

I guess I have a few. It was spending time with Tolkien’s books, exploring Middle-earth. I have poured uncountable hours into that. Doing the same in games, whether it was the C64 Hobbit or currently, Lord of the Rings Online. And I can say joining the Tolkien Society has also given fond memories, seeing people who love it as much as I do, being at the Tolkien 2019 event and even recently at the Tolkien Society seminar, listening to scholars talk with such passion about Tolkien and what he means to them. Tolkien brings people together, and for a wandering loner like myself, it gives me a sense of place and belonging at times I need it. 

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

Yes! As a child it was adventure and fun. As an adult, that is still there (how could it not be?), but having spent time away (I went to the Dark Side and focused a lot on my other love of Star Wars – again my brother to blame), I realised there was so much more to Tolkien. Little by little, step by step, I dip into Tolkien academia and the future hope of writing my own articles about the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. I have discovered my love of our British past because of Tolkien – the legends, lore and mythology of Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and others. That has shaped me even through doing Art History as a degree and wanting to focus on the ancient world and Middle Ages. In terms of future research, I definitely have a focus – the land itself, nature, ruins and the otherworldly/monstrous. We’ll see where that goes. In the last ten years, I have spent more time visiting places associated with Tolkien – Oxford and Birmingham of course. Not being a driver, I did an expedition which hopefully Bilbo himself would be proud of, getting to a fairly difficult to reach Wayland’s Smithy (near Uffington White Horse) where Tolkien used to picnic. That was a proud moment and also a fantastic experience. As a regular walker, I get the same sense of what Tolkien also felt, a love of the English (British) countryside and the nature around us. It’s a wonderful thing to share with Tolkien. I hope that will work its way into my research and eventual writings – the love of walking. But Tolkien is the gift that keeps giving, the more you read him, the more you find. And I am overwhelmed with the level of Tolkien scholarship out there now – I can’t get enough of it. 

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

Is this a trick question? There are people out there I would not push a Tolkien book into their hands. But those people I know, and I know he’s not just for them. But for everyone else, who loves adventure, sense of history and culture, I would always say to them, give Tolkien a go. As a child and as an adult, I find Tolkien worthy of re-reading over and over. Not quite sure I’ll get the same level as Christopher Lee reading The Lord of the Rings once a year, but I’ll give it a go. And I can happily admit my love of gaming in Middle-earth is something that flows out of me and I am forever recommending the current games to everyone, probably to their annoyance.  


You can read more from Tim Bolton on his blog and on Twitter!

Graeme Cheadle’s Experience– Tolkien Experience Project (180)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Graeme Cheadle’s responses:


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

I was first introduced to Tolkien’s work as a child. Both my parents had read and enjoyed The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the late ’60s or early ’70s, and my mother in particular was given a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, I think (or perhaps it was the entire trilogy) by a friend when she had a serious illness and was recuperating in hospital. Years later, when my siblings and I had been born but were still quite young, she’d tell us about hobbits and Black Riders when we were on camping trips, and the small hints I got from those stories fascinated me. I think we also had a companion book to the 1978 Bakshi animated film adaption of The Lord of the Rings at home, and a copy of The Father Christmas Letters, though my brother and sister and I didn’t really get the significance of them at the time. My mom later read The Hobbit to us, and eventually I read The Lord of the Rings myself one summer, and I was hooked.

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

It’s difficult to put this into words, because there is so much I could mention. I think what keeps me coming back is the intensely believable “reality” of Tolkien’s invented worlds. They’ve always seemed very real to me, and I’ve always wanted to visit and even live in them. Tolkien himself said something about the attraction of what he called the “unattainable vistas” of his worlds, “the glimpses of a large history in the background, an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist.” You get the feeling when reading The Lord of the Rings, or even The Hobbit, of a much larger, vaster, and incredibly older *history* behind them, both internal and external, to the places and characters that Tolkien describes, and to which some of the characters look back, whether it be Aragorn singing the Lay of Leithian to the hobbits or Elrond astonishing Frodo by saying he remembered The War of the Last Alliance, and indeed the War of Wrath itself. Most casual readers never find out a lot about these things, but they seem very real and fully formed, by both Tolkien and his characters. This “realism” always intensely attracted me to his works.

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

This is very difficult too. I suppose my favourite memory was the first time I read The Lord of the Rings at 13 or 14 years old; in some ways I’ve been trying to recapture that magic ever since, for the past 30 years. More recently however, the highlight of my Tolkien experience was visiting Oxford in early 2019, seeing some of the places he lived and worked, visiting his grave, and, best of all, having a pint in the room he used to drink in at The Eagle and Child with C.S. Lewis and the rest of the Inklings, in a chair by the fire, reading “The Fall of Gondolin,” on his birthday (his 127th), which was also my birthday (my 41st). I think that’s about as “peak Tolkien” as you can get, unless you could visit Middle-earth or talk to the professor himself.

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

I would say yes, because at first my appreciation was very much tied to the narrative: I just wanted to know what happened, and how things get resolved. Eventually that led to me wanting to know more about the worlds in which the events take place, as much as I could, and I read The Silmarillion and parts of The History of Middle-earth series. In both high school and university I started to analyze the tales in a more academic and scholarly way, and this interest has persisted to the present day, hence my research into podcasts, all kinds of books, articles, talks, etc., about both the man and his works. But the purely narrative draw has never really diminished for me either.

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

Absolutely, and in fact I do all the time. Anyone who knows me much at all knows about my Tolkien fascination, and I certainly recommend the books to friends for the pure enjoyment I think they bring. I look forward to teaching my young niece and nephew all about The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in a few years, and I even bring Tolkien up occasionally in my professional life, as a teacher of English as a Second Language.


You can read more from Graeme on Facebook!

Kathrin Heierli’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (179)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Elvish Black’s responses:


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

When I was about 12, I was on a holiday and my supply of books had run out very quickly already. So my dad gave me The Lord of the Rings books. They were in English, and not being a native speaker with only a couple years of English yet, they proved a challenge, but since I had nothing else, I tried my best. I remember liking it, but as I got to Tom Bombadil, it got confusing on top of the language barrier, so I stopped. Two years later, when The Hobbit movies were about to come out, I picked up The Hobbit, my English now up to the task. I continued with The Lord of the Rings and watched the movies. For a birthday I got gifted tickets to see the trilogy in full with live symphony orchestra and choir accompaniment, which further intensified my love for them.  When The Hobbit movies came out I remember having mixed opinions, but essentially, their presence in pop culture is what got me into reading Tolkien.

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

The Lord of the Rings books and movies rival for that spot I’d say. I love them for different reasons. But that said, I also love Tolkien’s illustrations, the whole legendarium, the backstory behind the whole creative process, his non-legendarium writings, his non-fiction…  I’m very much on the completionist side. The big body of fanworks and the fandom that has sprung up around it is not directly his work, but is a big part of always renewing and intensifying my love for his work. Over all, the whole genre of fantasy echoes and builds on so many of his stories and ideas, even though some part of the genre does this very bluntly, (looking at you, D&D et. al, I love you, but you know what you did).

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

Huh, this is a really difficult one, I’m gonna have to give a best-of. Viewing The Lord of the Rings trilogy with a live orchestral soundtrack has to rank really high up, but playing it with our high school orchestra was great in a different way. The Tolkien Exhibition in Paris in January 2020, just a month before the pandemic hit. Figuring out & doing the hike Tolkien did in Switzerland in 1911 (I live reasonably close by) and discovering all those locations in which you can feel moments from the stories take place, or even which are direct inspirations. Discovering obscure Russian Silmarillion musicals during quarantine. Can heartily recommend all of those.

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

Absolutely. It feels a bit like 3 phases. The first phase was discovering The Hobbit and reading The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. I did have some LotR friends then, but not that many. So I was mostly consuming the media.
In later high school, about when we were playing The Lord of the Rings in orchestra, I was having somewhat of a resurgence of Tolkien fandom. I was looking into studying illustration and for a while got quite obsessed with Tolkien’s art, and Middle-earth art in general (from John Howe & Alan Lee to fandom artists). I drew more of it myself, figured out the Tolkien hike, listened to lots Tolkien podcasts, went to conventions, recorded myself singing the oath of Feanor in Quenya for a group project for The Silmarillion Film Project, things like that. Lots of nerding about about background info, and also trying to engage with communities of fellow nerds, mostly online, since Switzerland is still a developing country for Fantasy as a genre and Tolkien in particular.

The third phase started pretty recently. I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree this spring, and YouTube in all its algorhythmic wisdom decided, that it was gonna recommend the Russian rock opera “finrod-zong” to me now. (If you aren’t familiar with the musical, treat yourself. It’s a Beren and Luthien musical, but the main character is Finrod. It’s really good, there are several versions with subtitles, though the one you wanna start with is the 2014 version). I forced a friend watch it with me, and now we’re belly deep into Russian fantasy musicals. (There’s even a wholly separate Lay of Leithian rock opera coming out.) This has also brought me fully into Tolkien, LotR & Silmarillion twitter & tumblr, where before I only used to lurk on the sidelines. (I hear it’s been having a revival during the pandemic, too). I also have the desire to draw a lot more Tolkien related stuff, which at the moment has to take a backseat due to my bachelor project, but still, my Procreate library has slowly been taken over by LotR content, and for the summer I’m already planning to participate in two Tolkien fan art events. So in a way, this winter and spring, thanks to an obscure Russian musical, I’ve found a lot of new, awesome ways to interact with Tolkien’s work IRL and online.

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

Absolutely. I am a librarian’s daughter, & I have through that connection been able to increase the city’s biggest library chain’s Tolkien selection from sparse to quite decent. Also, look at the above monologue about Russian Silmarillion musicals, I’m obviously not too shy about recommending things. Of course only to people who seem somewhat interested, not to be overly evangelical about it .


You can find more from on Twitter and Tumblr!

Elvish Black’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (178)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Elvish Black’s responses:


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

It was around – my dad loved the books. I was an avid reader from a young age, but I think we tried The Hobbit too young. I enjoyed paging through to find the poems and songs, but didn’t really read the book. I didn’t see the appeal of a protagonist who had no interest in adventures. I remember riding my bike down the big hill from the pool shouting the lyrics of the elves in Rivendell – Oh, what are you doing!

I was into Dungeons & Dragons as well, and had read the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual even though the campaigns my brother and I wrote were simplistic and didn’t ever get very far. My parents were watching The Two Towers once in the computer room on the little tv by the day bed. I asked if I could join them. Their response was ‘sure, but it’s a movie with no beginning and no end.’

I didn’t even realise it was a fantasy movie, because the split Fellowship meant we mostly saw characters the same height and I had mostly seen either realism OR fantasy, but not both.

I distinctly recall Sam talking about ‘llama’s bread’ and that I thought I had heard the word ‘elvish’ when he was talking about foreign food but I was pretty confused how that all fit together. Why would elves have llamas?

I recognized Treebeard as soon as I saw him. Ran downstairs to get the Monster Manual and paged through it to find the treents, proudly showing my parents. I was more curious about the movie at this point but still really didn’t understand.

At eleven I got my first crush. It was on a redheaded boy in my class, and I heard he liked The Lord of the Rings, so I was ready to give it another try. My first readthrough was so successful that I decided I didn’t care a whit about boys anymore, this book was so so much better. I was absolutely hooked.

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

The way it speaks to universal Truth without necessarily being true in the sense that it happened. It seems to speak to deeper things that are rarely reached in words. I particularly liked reading about Elves, and the idea of experiencing reality in a way slightly inhuman. The core of all things being song. The power of linguistic aesthetic. The broken references that to the author are not so broken.

The Lord of the Rings will always be my favorite to read, as much as I like the rest of it.

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

Choosing one would be too difficult.

I started writing Tengwar in seventh grade, and it influenced my handwriting. I started learning Sindarin and my father gave me a journal of his Quenya notes from when he was a teenager. I got nicknamed Elvish in high school, and I still use that professionally today. I played The Lord of the Rings online for over a decade, met some incredible people and wrote intense stories with them. The biggest compliment to my elves was when someone said they were a bit alien, not quite human.

I went on a life-changing trip to New Zealand to see some of the film locations and met more wonderful people there. I married my husband in a bilingual English/Sindarin ceremony and we honeymooned in Switzerland to see the inspiration of the Lonely Mountain and Rivendell, with a stop in the UK to see the Tolkien: The Maker of Middle-earth exhibit.

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

The most stark change was at the Maker of Middle-earth exhibit. Something about that experience made me relax very much about my own stories and somehow care less about devoting myself to corralling the group I would play with into coming together and having the same perspective on things. I only get one life and if I am going to create it needs to be less strict in how it develops. My characters can only be hindered by my being too strict on them.

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

Of course. To everyone. I think that different people get different things out of Tolkien’s work, but the depth and magic of it is unmatched. I also believe that it is a spiritual experience.

Mary Reid’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (177)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Nick Polk’s responses:


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

My parents were fans of Tolkien, as was my oldest brother. The earliest experience of Tolkien that I remember was a dramatized audiobook adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, complete with sound effects and music. I remember it as very dramatic and exciting, and listening to the audio dramatization led me to pick up the book. Even before that, though I don’t remember it because I was very young, my eldest brother read the books to the whole family, complete with sound effects, voices, and even a tune for the songs.

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

It is very difficult to pick a favorite part of Tolkien’s work, as there is so much that I love: the prose and Tolkien’s beautiful language, the poetry, the unfolding of the story. If I had to pick one element, it would likely be the sense of hope even in the darkest parts of the story. No matter how dark the world seems, there is always light, and good will always prevail, no matter how long and difficult the path to that victory. There is a sense of goodness and faith that pervades the story, and I love it. It gives me hope. If I did have to pick a single scene, it would likely be the Charge of the Rohirrim.

It is a scene charged (pun intended) with hope, men and women keeping faith with one another. It is a stirring action-piece, and I get chills every single time I read it. The way the scene is interwoven into the narrative, with what comes before and after it, is incredible.

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

Immersing myself into the world Tolkien created, staying up far too late to read one more chapter, listening to Howard Shore’s otherworldly score, and finding myself drawn into Middle-earth as into no other fictional story.

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

Yes, it has. I studied English in college, including literary analysis, which gave me a toolkit for reading literature. My English degree gave me a greater regard for Tolkien’s skill and a better understanding of how he crafted The Lord of the Rings. Additionally, I have joined Tolkien communities and learned more of how others read and experience Tolkien’s writings. I have gained appreciation for different perspectives and interpretations of the text.

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

Absolutely! I recommend Tolkien to fantasy fans, literary fans, and readers who want beautiful language and themes of hope, courage, and love. I don’t always recommend Tolkien; in addition to literature’s highly subjective nature, some readers find Tolkien’s lyrical prose frustrating, or dislike the pace of the narrative. However, The Lord of the Rings is undoubtedly the fantasy book I have recommended the most often.


You can find more from Mary Reid on Goodreads!

Robert Steed’s Experience — Tolkien Experience Project (176)

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 fan.

To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!

Now, on to Robert Steed’s responses:


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

As far as I remember, I was first introduced to Tolkien in the third grade when the teacher started reading a chapter from The Hobbit during reading time each day. While I remember enjoying that, it did not move me to engage with Tolkien then. It was not until middle school when I read The Lord of the Rings that I started to really enjoy and engage with Tolkien’s work on a more sustained basis.

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

I am sure this is a common response, but it is difficult to identify a single favorite part. What my favorite is seems to shift from day to day, from season to season, from age to age, and from mood to mood. That said, parts which I always enjoy are the Ainulindale, Akallabeth, “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit, “The Council of Elrond” from LoTR, and “On Fairy Stories.” I could add a great deal more, but then the list would become absurd. It would probably be briefer and easier to list what I do not enjoy.

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

Not too long ago, I would have said that my fondest experience was when I was simply discovering the legendarium for the first time and starting to plumb its depths. More recently, since I started organizing a small conference and participating in various Tolkien groups, I find that sharing Tolkien’s work and having the chance to learn from others in congenial settings is creating my new fondest experience(s).

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

Certainly it has. As a teenager I read it primarily for the fantasy elements and the action sequences. Since then, my attention has shifted much more to the relational and interpersonal aspects of Tolkien’s work, with a particular interest in the philosophical, metaphysical, and religious underpinnings and themes of it. The attention he devotes to meditating upon the nature of mortality throughout his legendarium has proven to be deeply meaningful for me. There is a strong phenomenological dimension to Tolkien’s work as well, both academic and literary, and that is fascinating. I also pay more attention to the potentially problematic aspects of both Tolkien’s legendarium and his scholarship. Tolkien is a genius, but not beyond criticism; I do not think he would accept being idolized.

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

Yes, I would and do recommend it, but gently. Tolkien’s work is deceptive in a way; the fiction can be read purely at the level of story/plot, but of course the reader does not have to stay at that level. There’s always layers of possible interpretation below the surface and beyond the plot. It’s like an onion centered within a Ptolemaic universe—-layers upon layers, wheels circling above circling wheels. Tolkien seems to have thought about and to care about everything, from the smallest seemingly trivial detail of plot to the structure of language to the nature of love and evil, all the way to abstract metaphysics and ontology. Taken as a whole, there is literally something in his work for everyone.