Abner de Souza’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (36)

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 Abner and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Abner de Souza’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Though familiar with Tolkien’s name, being a C.S Lewis’s reader, it was all because of the LOTR movies. Which I just came to watch in the year of the second part of The Hobbit trilogy , for, until then I only had seen the scene of the Hobbits in Fangorn, which in my memories were totally different. Well, though it was a bad quality, illegal copy, it was enough to take me out of my world and so I became, or, more accurately, I found out I was thirsty for that fantastic beauty I found in Middle-earth. So, by the time of the third part of The Hobbit, I’d already read the four books and considered myself his biggest fan, and abandoned, because I had no idea by the time, that The Silmarilion existed.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

If you asked a book, I would say with no doubt The Silmarilion. Because of it’s majestic beauty, incomparable. But, the “part” of his work I can’t say. Maybe the linguistic, that, like the gift of the elves, it was his magic of writing, of making men have dreams of that intangible fairness. Like only the words he created could give you the description of what it means without spoil.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

That is something I discovered suddenly. Walking to school, back in those days I was reading The Lord of The Rings, I caught myself gazing upon the trees. In a moment I just knew that I was changed forever by a book I was reading. I can still see the tree, the street I was in, like I’m right in front of it. This moment is in my mind and heart. Unremovable.

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

Never. Since I read The Lord of The Rings, to read a new work, to watch or to listen to an interview or record he made, or anything related to him, it’s like a ceremony for me. I have the highest respect for all of his legacy and so I care about not giving it the recognition of it’s worth. By now, I’ve read or listened to a lot by Tolkien and about Tolkien, though I have this way that might seem strange. I do not consume the work of someone I like and that has already passed in the same way I do for the work of the living. So I go slow, as slow as I can. It’s reasonable actually. For I fear the day I will know all that there is to be known. But for Tolkien, being who he is, it’s different. I always make sure to have something new to pass Christmas day or my birthday.

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

If I would? What can a man do in the name of love if not share all that is good?


If you want more of Abner’s thoughts on Tolkien and other topics, you can find him on Twitter!

The Tolkien Birthday Toast–A Reflection on Reflection

For a few years now, I have followed the tradition of the Tolkien Birthday Toast that I was first introduced to through the Tolkien Society.

You can visit the Tolkien Society’s page explaining the toast for more information or for the basic procedures.

Today I wanted to take a moment to laud the simple traditions that fandom inspires. It is easy to look at something like the Tolkien Birthday Toast from the outside and assume it is nothing more than an exercise performed by a group of over-enthusiastic nerds.

I think there is something a bit more, though.

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At this point, the toast is a shared, communal tradition that lends itself to something that our everyday lives increasingly push out: reflection.

I call it a communal experience because, whether one celebrates it alone or in the company of others, there is an understanding that this act is something shared. Different fans and groups of fans across the world will do this same act, and participating in something that large gives a sense of unity and belonging.

It is more than that, though. This sense of community is nice, but what is the community about? Why does it matter?

Having the toast focus on the author rather than a specific text or event makes this activity a very special kind of reflection. It is a moment to pause and appreciate the achievements of an author and the life he lived. Tolkien was not a writer by trade, he was an academic. While many people were drawn to him because of his creative endeavors, those are only part of Tolkien’s influence. The toast allows people with varying degrees and experiences with Tolkien and his work to participate, and this is important!

This is the point that intersects the most with my interests as a researcher into the reception of Tolkien’s writings: The Toast invariably calls participants to reflect on the ways that Tolkien’s writings have produced meaning in their lives.

Often, participants will share stories of how they first read Tolkien or how Tolkien changed the way they saw the world. These stories are the kind of reflection that are increasingly pushed aside in a fast-paced culture.

A tradition that practices taking a moment and recalling these stories of connection and inspiration is well worth participating in! So tonight, at 9pm, consider raising a glass to The Professor!

Don Standing’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (35)

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 Don and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Don Standing’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Around the time I was starting high school, I was reading a fair bit of Conan and Sword and Sorcery stuff. I remember seeing on the cover of many books variations of “Not since Lord of the Rings…”. And so, like water circling a drain, I bought my first copy of Fellowship of the Ring. That was about 50 years ago.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Favourite part? If that means favourite work, then The Silmarillion then Smith of Wootton Major. If that means favourite part of Lord of the Rings, then Book I. If that means favourite aspect of the writing, then tone. If that means favourite character, then Middle-earth

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I just listened to an interview with author Julian Barnes who said, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” This resonates with me and I think that may be my answer. The Silmarillion, as the blurb on my edition says, “approaches the mythic”. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean, but for me there is a holiness to it, an exaltation. It is a paean to wonder and awe – things I miss in this world.

On another level, introducing my son to Tolkien: I have an illustrated copy of The Hobbit and I would retell the story using the illustrations when he could barely talk. He called Thorin and Company “dorfs” and, in the double page spread illustration of the Battle of Five Armies would name the orcs: always the last one named was “Jibby”. Fond memories.

On another level, rediscovering and re-experiencing the works through Signum University, the Tolkien Professor, and The Prancing Pony podcast.

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

I wouldn’t say “approach” particularly. I used to read Lord of the Rings yearly, but haven’t in many years now. I find that I have become rather Smeagol-ish in that I am very interested in the beginnings of things: word origins, pre-history, etc. As I write this, I see that that is probably very Tolkien too. Ironic that the character that, in some ways, was like the author, becomes Gollum.

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

Probably not, although I certainly have. Most people who would be interested already have read it.

As mentioned above, I am interested in beginnings. I have oftentimes seen a comedy routine on tv that is the ancestor of some original bit from the 50s (for example). When I see the original, I am often disappointed by how bland it is. I wonder if that would be the same for Tolkien. Because he has virtually taken over the world and is everywhere, new readers (those used to Game of Thrones for example, or Harry Potter) may not be as appreciative as we who read it when the world was young.

WelCZa’s Experience– Tolkien Experience Project (34)

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 WelCZa and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to WelCZa‘s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Back at 1995(ish) I was playing local version of DnD and I loved it. And one of my friends/schoolmates I was playing it with told me, that I should read Hobbit and that DnD is based on it. So first I read borrowed Hobbit and next I bought it as well as the LotR and Silmarilion (I was around 15 so it wasn’t all at once).

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Definitely The Two Towers and its battle of Helms deep, where Gimli and Legolas start counting killed enemies and compete in it. IMO it’s one of the most hilarious and touchy part of the story if not “The most…” (even besides destroying of The Ring).

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Definitely Lord of the Rings online. An MMORPG based on, well, LotR. There is nothing more to say.

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

When I was young, Tolkien’s work was bible to me. Now it is just awesome saga, besides others.

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

Definitely. Why? Short answer: Why not? Longer answer: Tolkien was a genius storyteller who even invented at least two alphabets (elvish and dwarven) and at least basics of two languages.

 

Jane Patricia’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (33)

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 Jane and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Jane Patricia’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was looking for fantasy books to read and stumbled upon the trilogy. Since I’ve heard about the movie, I decided to give it a read. Best decision ever

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

The way he managed to create new language and a world that is familiar but also wonderful. You can feel his passion towards it. His imagination is beautiful and a great place to be when you’re getting tired of real life. For the books I like Silmarillion the best, especially the way he told about the creation of the world.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

During The Hobbit movie trilogy, my longtime friends and I would make time to reunite in our hometown, get together and go to the cinema on those 3 years. It was before we all got busy with our work and family, so the movies were dear to me.

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

I simply read it when I was younger but now when I re-read it, I began to look at it from a different side, he influences how I imagine things. Sometimes I’d discuss the books/movies with my other Tolkien loving friends. Well we might not get that deep, but it’s something ��

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

Yes! Absolutely! I’ve been recommending it to my friends since the first time I found LOTR. His imagination and penmanship is a work of art. Something that is not to be missed in one’s lifetime.


You see more from Jane Patricia on Twitter!

John David Cofield’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (32)

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

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to John David Cofield‘s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I first came into contact with J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth in the summer of 1968. I was 11 and during summer vacation I subscribed to a newsletter for grade school children put out by the My Weekly Reader organization. One issue had a long feature article about these amazing books written by a professor in England. There were illustrations of hobbits and hobbit holes and one of Gollum watching Frodo at the Cracks of Doom. I was fascinated by what I read in that newsletter but the local library didn’t have any Tolkien books, so I put the newsletter aside and went on to other things. Then in April 1969 when I was 12 and in the 6th grade I spotted The Hobbit in my elementary school library. I checked it out and fell in love with it from the first page. That summer I bought paperback copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I’ve never been without at least one copy of each ever since.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

It’s difficult to narrow down to a favorite part, but as a historian and former high school history teacher I know I’ve always enjoyed sections like The Council of Elrond where a lot of the background history is presented.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Again its difficult to narrow down to a fondest experience, but I know that I first read The Lord of the Rings during an unhappy time in my family’s history. We had made an unfortunate move from one town to another where none of us were happy and where we only stayed for 6 months before moving back to the first town. So during those months The Lord of the Rings was a distraction and a source of happiness for me.

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

As a twelve year old and as a teenager I read Tolkien for the adventure and the story. After nearly 50 years I still love the adventure and story, but I’m also much more aware of the deep values behind the surface plot. Additionally, so many years of reading has left a patina of memory on each page, and I can often remember reading a certain passage many years earlier, reminding me of some of the thoughts and reactions I had to it then.

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

I would definitely recommend reading Tolkien, with the caution that it can become a central life theme. Not that that’s anything but positive, but people do need to be aware that “the book” is more than just a book to me and to many others.

Richard Rohlin’s Experience—Tolkien Experience Project (31)

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 Richard and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Richard Rohlin’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings a couple of years before the Peter Jackson films came out. I actually found a couple of old yellowed Del Rey paperbacks (of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring; I’ve always assumed they must have been left there by the previous owners) in the attic of the house we were living in at the time. I was nine or ten years old, and although I was a big Narnia fan at the time I’d never heard of these books. I took them downstairs to my mother, and she looked at them and said, “yeah, those are good.” Over the course of a summer family road trip from Texas to Tennessee, I read through both volumes. It was only when I came to the end of The Fellowship of the Ring that I realized there were at least two more volumes!

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I think Tolkien was vastly underappreciated as a poet, by which I mean specifically a versifier. I didn’t really get the poetry my first, second, or third time through, but that’s been one of the many ways I’ve “grown into” the books. And of course elves. I can’t get enough of elves.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

One of the great moments in my life came when I was twelve years old and learned of the existence of The Silmarillion. My mom took me to the library to find a copy, and I ended up coming up with a copy of Unfinished Tales as well. There are certain books you read that set your tastes for the rest of your life, books that cause your imagination to turn a corner. The Silmarillion is one of those books for me.

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

I am (thanks to Tolkien) a Germanic philologist, currently finishing my thesis on Eddic poetry and specifically an Eddic poem known as “The Waking of Angantýr.” My interest in philology began as an attempt to see Tolkien’s sub-creation through his eyes, and then discovering that I actually enjoyed this sort of work. I think there are lots of linguists and medievalists with similar stories. That experience, following in his academic footsteps as it were (or at least trying to – they’re rather large footprints), has certainly enriched my reading of his works. On the other hand, it’s freed me up to really read them again. There’s this phase that I think many Tolkien fans go through, usually right after they read The Silmarillion, where they are sure that they’ve got Middle-earth completely “figured out.” They know what categories and boxes to fit everyone into, they know what all of the allusions in The Lord of the Rings mean, etc. In that way the illusion that the Silmarillion creates is almost too effective. It’s only when you dig deeper into the complexity and the richness of Tolkien’s language creation, his mythmaking, his poetry, and the long and complicated textual history of the legendarium as it’s presented to us in The History of Middle-earth that you get a sense for how much there is. With that realization comes a certain freedom. I can relax. I can sit back and enjoy the story, the rich prose, the humor, the fullness that is there to be enjoyed. And I can know that I don’t have to get to the bottom of it all today. I probably never will. I don’t have to deconstruct it. I can set my mind free to rove “over hill and under tree.”

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

Tolkien’s books are among the most life-changing works I have ever encountered. They set the trajectory for what my life, work, study, and faith have become. That said, I’ve found that it doesn’t always pay to recommend them too strongly to your friends. The sheer amount of investment which Tolkien “superfans” put into Middle-earth can be off-putting, even intimidating, to people considering their first casual read. Tolkien’s prose, which I find rich and lovely, does intimidate some readers of the “Harry Potter” generation (my generation)—no slander to Harry Potter intended! Oddly, I have found that the Generation Z kids (many of whom did not grow up with the films) are often much more excited and receptive about reading Tolkien. I wonder if his works are undergoing a “rediscovery” in a small way? I hope so. To children or adults, I would say simply this: Read these books. They may not change your life. They may not be your favorite thing in the world. But at the very least, you will leave Middle-earth richer than when you arrived.


To see more of Richard Rohlin’s thoughts on Tolkien, head over to his blog: http://blogonthebarrowdowns.blogspot.com/

grys03’s Experience –Tolkien Experience Project (30)

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 grys03 and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to grys03’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

This one was easy – 1971
I was a comic book collector & had made friends with a guy who ran a bookshop
He was an ex-literature/English teacher/private tutor in his 70’s
We had come to an arrangement whereby he would let me know when something interesting came in &
I would grade & value the comics
On one of these occasions I spotted a silly paperback in a box in the back room
It looked like fun & had even sillier name: Bored of the Rings by the Harvard Lampoon

About an hour later (I was a quick reader) I was hooked.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I was always fond of books/stories that filled in details via background data (e.g. Dune)
So Tolkien’s appendixes, family trees was a fascination for me
& eventually The Silmarillion, in particular, almost became far more important than LoTR
providing a rich history
inconsistencies I ignored – stories grow over time & the details can change
even in a well researched/laid out world such as Middle-Earth

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Reading LotR to my kids 4 & 5 as bedtime a series of bedtime stories
I would paraphrase a section of a chapter
We would talk about unfamiliar concepts etc
This led to many games of HeroQuest, Talisman (board games) &
eventually Dungeon & Dragons when they had matured at ages 5 & 6

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

I always considered LoTR a grand adventure
It was the adventures of Hercules & Thor & other great tales all rolled into one
It was populated with heroes, ‘magicians’, evil demons, elves, dwarves, etc.
What more could you want

Except, as time went on I realized that the journey to Mordor, the reinstatement of Aragorn as king of Gondor
the travels through Middle-Earth, the destruction of the Ring etc were actually the back story

The real story was the ‘coming of age’ of the Hobbits – their growing confidence & their ability to decide their own future

Which is why, though I loved the movies, I was disappointed that the Homecoming was not handled properly
To me that was the most important chapter in the book

Not the most exciting or grandiose or epic but certainly most important

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

It took me several attempts to get past the first 33 pages
Once I did I read the next 70 odd pages in the next day
But the rest of the book simply flowed very quickly

So, depends on the person. LoTR is a great book but to me it always felt like a book that thought it was a movie
Descriptive passages were almost written as if Tolkien was one of the Fellowship & described what he saw
similarly, Tolkien wrote as if he was an eavesdropper

Not everyone is interested in reading that style of book

RossRN’s–Tolkien Experience Project (29)

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 RossRN and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to RossRN’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My parents were not Tolkien fans, nor were any friends growing up. I first learned of The Hobbit by seeing the animated Hobbit on TV when I was in elementary school. In 6th grade, I got The Hobbit video game for my Commodore 64 and while I struggled with getting through the portcullis in the barrels, I was already falling in love with the world of Tolkien. It was then that I bought a copy of The Hobbit and a box set of The Lord of the Rings and read them for the first time.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

My favorite part of Tolkien’s work is what I’ve come to consider the depth of it. By that, I mean at each stage of my life as I’ve reread The Hobbit and LoTR, I’ve taken away more from it based on my own life experience. Even more depth was granted with the History of Middle Earth. Being able to see the development of the story, the different ideas and considerations that were made is something I find unique. Finally, the publication of his Letters, Essays, and Translations opens your thinking even further as to the influences and decisions he made in this writing. It is truly unique.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Hands down reading The Hobbit and LoTR to my daughter when she was five years old. She had seen the first Harry Potter and wanted me to read that to her as her bedtime story. I told her we would do that once we read The Hobbit and LoTR. She agreed. Each night I read to her and each morning while walking to school we talked about it. I saw the stories in such a new light and it was fun to discuss influences of Tolkien on the world of Harry Potter when we read those.

The experience re-awakened my love of Tolkien and over the past 15 years I’ve greatly expanded my collection and reading of many more of his works.

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

To the comments made above, once I recognized the depth, I couldn’t get enough. I not only re-read works, but read all of HoME and many other works by and about him. In between, I’d reread The Hobbit and LoTR with a new appreciation and context. I think it is mostly my own experience in life opening my eyes a bit more as I get older, but each time I reread these books I find previously missed gems and concepts. I don’t look for them, I just notice them and more readily identify them. Each read gives me food for thought.

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

I respect Tolkien is not for everyone. I find it hard to recommend to an adult who hasn’t read it already as it seems many people have predetermined notions of the books based on the movies.

People who haven’t read his works are often shocked that I would have read the books to my daughter at such a young age, mostly because of the movies. Honestly, when I read it to her, she understood it based on her age and experience. To her it was a wonderful, fantastical journey of good vs. evil. It had very ‘basic’ messages of temptation, which as you get older you start to view as being much more complex, none-the-less, she enjoyed it and I think any child would. If you are reading it to your child and discussing it, you can choose what is right to discuss with them and how to do it in the right way for them.

Alan Sisto’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (28)

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 Alan and the other participants for this.

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

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Alan Sisto’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

The answer to this question will, unfortunately, necessitate my admitting to being older than I’d prefer to acknowledge. In November of 1977, I was 9 years old and, apparently, watched the Rankin & Bass animated TV presentation of The Hobbit. Admittedly, I no longer remember that experience with any degree of specificity. What I do remember — and what I still have on my bookshelf — is the first Tolkien book I ever owned, a copy of The Hobbit that I received that Christmas: the book as illustrated with art from the film. I recall reading that story over and over and simply being enthralled.

Sadly, it would be another five years before I would even learn of the existence of The Lord of the Rings — the Rankin & Bass book didn’t include the usual list of “other books by the author”, and the internet was just a sparkle in Al Gore’s eye at the time. But as a freshman in high school, I distinctly remember coming across the set of paperbacks from Ballantine Books (the Silver Jubilee set, as it turns out, with art by Darrell Sweet). I spent nearly all my paper-route money on that set and began to read them; though ‘devour’ might be a more accurate word, as I read the set at least three times in my first year of high school

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I’m sure my answer won’t be the only one along these lines, but my favorite element of Tolkien’s work is how they feel grounded in reality, despite their fantastic nature. It wouldn’t be until much later — as an adult, studying his works — that I would realize the importance of ‘the inner consistency of reality’ and the resultant Secondary Belief in the sub-created world. Still, identifying and understanding these elements does not detract from the impact they have when I read Tolkien: no other author I’ve found seems as able to sub-create a world as utterly believable and internally-consistent as the world that Tolkien made

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

To be honest, I’m not sure I can narrow it down to just one. I’ve had an incredibly wonderful time (so far!) in walking through the legendarium for The Prancing Pony Podcast — I’ve learned so much, and it’s brought me closer connections to the Tolkien community than I ever would have imagined. And then there was the four or five year ‘drought’ where I didn’t read Tolkien (out of lack of time, not lack of interest), and the first time reading the books after that was like a desert wanderer stumbling upon the sweetest water.

But if I have to pick just one ‘fondest experience’, it would have been in the summer of 2001 — a few months before Peter Jackson’s film adaptations would come to theaters around the world. My wife had never read The Lord of the Rings but had shown some interest in the movie trailers and previews that we’d seen. I suggested she read the books before the films released so that she could experience them properly; her response was for us to read them together. So I bought a second set of paperbacks (my Ballantine set was nearing 20 years old, and was held together by tape and a very inadequate spell of binding) and we read together. Not just ‘together’ in the sense that we would each read a chapter every couple of days and stay mostly on track, no… by ‘together’, I mean we would find time and I would read aloud from the books while she followed along in her copy. Not only was it the first time I’d read the entirety of The Lord of the Rings aloud (an experience I highly recommend to anyone!), but I got to experience the story as a first-time reader vicariously through my wife. That first-time experience is something that, by definition, we can only experience once… but watching someone else have that first-time experience comes close, and is definitely my fondest experience of Tolkien’s work.

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

Without a doubt. Like most young people, the richness of Tolkien’s world was something that I enjoyed without being able to properly identify it. So my approach was merely to enjoy the story — I say ‘merely’, but there’s nothing wrong with this approach at all and, I suspect, Professor Tolkien would approve of those who approach his works exclusively in this manner.

Over time, though, I began to develop a deeper appreciation for the craft of the story… for the recurring themes… for the worldview that (I believe) Tolkien espoused. And these interests made me dig deeper — into biographical material, the Letters, essays, studies, and more.

Now, of course, I approach Tolkien’s work with even more attention to detail than ever before. As the co-host of The Prancing Pony Podcast, I have to approach Tolkien’s work with several thousand listeners in mind! This means being more thorough in my research, more complete in my comprehension, more open in discussion with my co-host, and more careful in leaping to conclusions. It’s been an extraordinarily rewarding experience, and I’m thrilled we have so much more material to cover.

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

At first, this seems like an odd question. Why would anyone who is willing to take the time to answer these questions not be willing to recommend Tolkien’s work? But as I considered it, I realized that there are some people to whom I wouldn’t bother recommending Tolkien — they are already set in their (orcish, perhaps) ways, sadly content in their myopia, pleased to focus on only the Primary World and not even the truths about that Primary World that they might learn from Tolkien’s secondary one.

But aside from those few, sad people, the answer is an unconditional ‘yes’, I would whole-heartedly recommend Tolkien’s work! As for why, the answers may be found in On Fairy-Stories, the seminal essay on fantasy written by Tolkien and printed in Tree and Leaf, among other volumes. The reasons are threefold: recovery, escape, and consolation. Each provides an important (in my view, perhaps essential) element in enjoying our brief span on this earth, but to understand and experience all three is a wonderful gift. Tolkien’s works provide each in unavoidable quantity and rich quality; reading his works can only improve one’s life correspondingly.


You can hear more of Alan’s thoughts on all things Tolkien in the wonderful podcast that he co-hosts: The Prancing Pony Podcast!