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 Una McCormack 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 Una McCormack’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My first encounter with Tolkien’s work was with the cover of the single volume of The Lord of the Rings, illustrated by Pauline Baynes. It has a bright yellow spine – very distinctive – wild and wonderful landscapes, and strange and marvellous creatures. I can still remember looking at these images, not knowing anything about the book, wondering what the story might be, and making up my own stories about them.
I had The Hobbit read to me when I was small, and also it was a very memorable Jackanory in 1979 (when I was 7). I suspect I had it read to me about the same time. Then, in 1981, when I was 9, the BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was transmitted. My dad, my siblings, and I would sit in front of the radio and listen to each part – it took twenty-six weeks! One of my siblings taped some of them (not all; tapes weren’t cheap!), and I had those tapes for years. I read The Lord of the Rings soon after, although I didn’t follow all of it. I read The Silmarillion for the first time when I was around 11 years old: again, I didn’t follow much, but I followed enough.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
The earliest moments that imprinted on me remain the ones that come to mind first. Éowyn’s courageous stand against the Witch-king. Merry’s farewell to Théoden. Galadriel’s rejection of the Ring. A little later, I adored Unfinished Tales, particularly the Narn I Hin Hurin, the Quest for Erebor, and the minutiae of information about Istari and palantiri. In my thirties, I became greatly absorbed in the story of Denethor, Faramir, Boromir, and Finduilas, who seem to be the closest to ‘modern’ characters as we might know them; i.e. there is more emphasis on their psychology.
What has remained constant is that sense of coming home when I open The Lord of the Rings. I breathe the September air of the book, and I am back in Middle-earth, with the rain and the green smell.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
So many to choose. Sharing this delight with my dad (who died when I was 12). Consoling myself through my adolescence (Tolkien understood childhood bereavement). After the first Peter Jackson movie was released, I started to write fanfiction (quite a lot of it), and became very involved in online fanfiction groups: I set up a mailing list, and was involved in the creation of a fanfiction archive. This has given me some very happy memories, of writing with and for friends, and meeting people who love Tolkien as much as I do.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Of course, it is more than forty years since I first encountered it, and I have changed hugely in that time! But I always come back to Tolkien.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
These days, not really. Surely everyone knows by now whether or not Tolkien is their thing?! If you like it, I’ll find out; if you don’t, I’m unlikely to persuade you!
I am, however, looking forward to my young daughter discovering The Lord of the Rings. I hope she likes it too.
You can follow Una McCormack on Twitter for more great Tolkien and other fantasy content!