John Hancock’s Experience–Tolkien Experience (54)

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 Hancock’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

When I was at Adelaide University in the 70s there was a strong JRRT following. It appeared to have a significant cultural influence on many of my fellow students, even in the science faculty of which I was a part.

I bought a paperback copy of LOTR and once I started to read could not put it down. I was transported in a way that I never experienced previously and have not since.

I also bought another paperback The Adventures of Tom Bombadil which contains some short stories such as Leaf By Niggle and various poems. When my children were young I would often read the poems to them which they still remember.

After that I read LOTR every year until I was about forty. After that I have read it on average about every two to three years.

The original LOTR and TAOTB have long since fallen to pieces due to their constant use and have been replaced.

Once the movies were released I instantly became a fan and have watched them many times, and the commentaries and extras numerous times as well.

I also purchased The Silmarillion and have read that a number of times as well.

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

That is like having to choose between your children. If I had to choose I think it would be his poetry. More specifically, “Poems and Songs of Middle Earth.” Although not strictly adhering to the “Middle-earth” mythology it seems to me to encapsulate JRRT’s creative ability.

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

Back in Uni a friend loaned me a record of “The Poems and Songs of Middle Earth” and I subsequently bought the four record set.

It has a song cycle of songs sung by William Elvin and music by Donald Swan (of Flanders and Swan fame), and readings of poems and extracts from the book by Tolkien himself.

I spent many hours listening to these records.

I subsequently bought the hard cover book “Poems and Songs of Middle Earth” which contained the piano score of the Swan song cycle. I am sure I drove my family mad trying to play and sing the songs.

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

I cannot say that it has really. Well, that is not strictly true.

When I first read his work I was captivated and amazed at the complexity and sheer imagination. As I discovered more about the world that Tolkien created I become more and more engrossed in his legendarium.

Having discovered so much scholarly work, particularly The Tolkien Professor, it has given me a greater appreciation of the literary merits of JTTR’s work.

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

Short answer yes. Long answer maybe. I have found that many people have no desire for or appreciation of fantasy. That is not to say that they would not appreciate JRRT’s writings but I have found that it just leaves many people cold.

To be blunt he is not for everyone. However it has not stopped me recommending his work and never will but I rarely recommend others of his works such as The Silmarillian.


For more from John Hancock, check out his Twitter or his Facebook!

Cristina Montes’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (53)

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 Cristina 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 Cristina Montes’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

A philosophy professor in college (sometime between 1993-1997) recommended that I read Tolkien. It was only many years later, however, that I actually got around to doing so. That was when the LOTR movies were about to come out. I wanted to read the books before watching the movies.

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

I love the LOTR trilogy. It’s an annual ritual for me to re-read it. I simply love the story, the themes, the world Tolkien created, his characters, and the word-craft.

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

When I went to Spain to study for a year, I discovered that my Spanish landlady also has a passion for Tolkien. From that instant, the two of us became very good friends. She even lent me the Spanish edition of LOTR when she found out I read the trilogy once a year.

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

Yes. Every time I read the LOTR trilogy, different parts of it resonate depending on the personal issues I’m dealing with at the moment I’m reading the trilogy. Also, through time, I have read Tolkien biographies and commentaries and studies on his works; these have enriched my understanding and appreciation of Tolkien’s works and have given me new ways of viewing his works. Because of this, each re-reading of the LOTR trilogy is a unique experience.

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

Of course! Tolkien’s work has enriched my world and has made me a better person in more ways than one.

Michael Flowers–Tolkien Experience Project (52)

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 Michael 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 Michael Flowers’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

At Junior High School an English teacher retired, and we were given a science teacher for one hour a week. He obviously didn’t know how to conduct an English class. His solution was to get us to read in turn out loud The Hobbit to the rest of the class. I can remember personally reciting the bit about the dwarves approaching the fires of the Elvenking. I even had time to look up and see the whole class was spellbound. At the end of the academic year we hadn’t even finished the book, so I got it that Christmas, and read it all through myself.

A few years later on a school prize-giving day someone in another class got this strange thick green paperback book with a yellow spine – myself and others were receiving chunky hardback history books, or atlases. On investigation this green book was Pauline Baynes’ cover of The Lord of the Rings. I got it the following Christmas and read it through several times. I remember the first time I wondered who Arwen was at the end (I missed her earlier entrance in Rivendell, or forgot all about her). I was also surprised that Strider became the King.

A couple of years later I remember going into W.H. Smiths and coming across a desk absolutely covered with piles of a strange book with a floral design on the cover – this was the launch of The Silmarillion. I got the paperback for Christmas once it became available, but it took at least 3 attempts before I could get past the first two “chapters”.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Without question The Lord of the Rings. I prefer his mature style with a detailed attention to landscape and nature. I also like his building of suspense, and contrast between safe havens and places of danger. My favourite chapters of all are “The Shadow of the Past” and “The Council of Elrond.”

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I didn’t enjoy my senior school very much, but I remember once reading The Lord of the Ringswalking between classes, waiting outside classes in every spare moment. Then reading it at home once I got back from school. I think I managed to read it using every spare moment in 11 days. I remember finding the 3 volumes in Hull’s central library in the reference section for the first time, and being amazed by the appendices. My paperback copy only had the Aragorn and Arwen appendix. I was still at school, but spend lots of 2p pieces photocopying the appendices I wanted to read at home. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to buy the third volume in hardback, but pocket money was tight then – only 20p a week. I loved the 1981 BBC radio adaptation, and that helped with the pronunciation of words like Celeborn and Isengard – the pronunciation appendices meant nothing to me at the time!

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

Yes, when I first read it as a teenager my favourite chapters were “The Uruk-Hai” and “Shelob’s Lair”, but as an adult I definitely prefer “The King of the Golden Hall” and “Treebeard”. After I studied English literature at university were Tolkien wasn’t even mentioned, and I got the impression he was despised, I feared I would find the books childish. However, I found that the narrative had added depth, especially the sections dealing with the Riders of Rohan – after studying Old English. The first teenage readings were made at breakneck speed as the excitement mounted. Now, I like to take my time and savour all the words. However, I do find the Frodo, Sam & Gollum less interesting once one knows what happens next.

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

When I first read it, it was a secret vice. You weren’t supposed to mention liking it, a bit like you couldn’t mention if you enjoyed Abba. The films have made Tolkien more acceptable and mainstream. However, I probably wouldn’t recommend Tolkien to a stranger. You need to know a person’s taste before recommending Tolkien. There are still some diehard realists who don’t like fiction in which there is an element of fantasy. I’ve heard several people gave up on the TV series “Game of Thrones” as soon as the dragons appeared!


If you want more of Michael’s thoughts on Tolkien and other topics, visit his blog at http://www.eybirdwatching.blogspot.com/

Maria do Rosario Monteiro’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (51)

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


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

By a side comment made by Professor Sansonetti while giving a lecture on alchemy during my Master in Comparative Literature at Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, 30 years ago.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I do not have one! There are several: The LOR, The Cosmogonic myth in Silmarillion, “The fall of Númenor”, Unfinished Tales, etc.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

The discovery of multiple layers of intertwined myths

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

It changes every time I re-read it because in 30 years I have changed also.

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

Yes. There is a bunch of reasons I cannot outline in a single answer. Usually, it takes me a whole semester teaching it, and I never get to the bottom. There is no way anyone who reads Tolkien will not become a “re-reader.” And the movies are a different creation, using a different art, that does not substitute the books. My advice is always the same: first, read the book, create your inner image of each character and of the space, get the feeling of traveling WITH the hobbits. Then, see the movies. If one does not follow this order will lose forever the ability to became a sub-creator of Middle-earth, that is what readers are or should be. Do not lose the possibility of imagining your own Galadriel, your own Gandalf, etc.


For more thoughts on Tolkien and other topics from Maria do Rosario Monteiro, you can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Alex B’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (50)

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 Alex 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 Alex B’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My Dad read The Hobbit to me, and then, despite having some reservations, the Lord of the Rings. I can’t say exactly how young I was then, but I do remember that I certainly couldn’t manage to read the books myself yet.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

To be as succinct as possible: The truth of it.

To expand a bit more: The fully-realized secondary world, with palpable ancientry, geography, culture, language, and complexity. I think it’s dangerous to suggest fiction is only worthwhile–or even is most worthwhile–when it says things about our own selves, and our own world; and yet it must be said that Tolkien, in his fantasy, managed to depict our reality in a way that *feels* more true than almost any so-called realistic depiction. In that way he shows to be false the dichotomy between myth and our present lived experience, making our world all the more wondrous.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I remember vividly my “fall in love” moments, the successive eu/catastrophes in both The Hobbit and LOTR. But, if I can be a little cliché, the only possible answer is that every experience is my favorite, and none of them are. Having the books read to me and skipping school to see the first film with my Dad (I’m 30) will always be treasured bonding experiences; Tolkien’s Boethian (or at least Boethi-esque) depiction of fate and acting in the face of it, grieving yet grimly optimistic, have informed my general ethic and shaped how I’ve responded to hardship and tragedy in my adult life. (There was no doubt which author I would read while working on the one eulogy I’ve given; and there’s a reason that one eulogy had three lines that got laughs, and celebrated life in the face of promised death.) However, there is still a lot to be said for those quiet nights alone with an old paperback, stripped of any outside context.

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

Yes; and so has the way it approaches me, which is perhaps nearer to how I experience it. At first, I delighted in the adventure, the danger, and the great expansive travel. But now, having read everything I know to have been published with Tolkien’s name on the cover and consumed a massive amount of the related literature, podcasts, and lectures… well, I still delight in the adventure, the danger, and the great expansive travel. But I also appreciate the depth of scholarship baked into the fiction, as well as the ephemeral wisdom. There is beauty in the world–indeed, there always has been–and the fact that it will pass, as did that which came before, is no reason not to behold it all with wonder and gratitude.

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

I would, but I tend not to do so explicitly. My enthusiasm, I think, speaks loudly enough; and there’s some danger in insisting on a kind of genre canon. So long as the people I care about are reading things they care about, I’m happy.

Brad Thompson’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (49)

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 Brad 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 Brad Thompson’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was first introduced to Tolkein’s work when I was nine years old, so I would be in year five at my junior school in Sheffield, England. I was told by my teacher to read this book as it was a fantastic book to read and that I would get lots out of it. When I flipped through the pages the very first time I picked it up, I realised there were little or no pictures, and this was going to be a huge problem for me, because even though I was nine years old and had the reading age of an average fifteen year old, I always had issues with my imagination. Basically, I’ve never been able to turn written text into an image in my head. However, I persevered and forced myself to read the whole book.

I did not enjoy it. And that was such a shame because there were parts of it that I liked but without the illustrations and without being able to fully picture what was going on in the story I couldn’t really can appreciate the book for what it was. And so, it would be another seven or eight years before I took up my interest in anything to do with Tolkein’s work. Fast forward to the year 2003, and I decided, with my friends, to play The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on the PlayStation 2, which I absolutely adored. Then, I decided that I needed to watch the films, so I watched the first two films on DVD and the final film, The Return of The King I went to see the pictures, on New Year’s Eve 2003, and it was absolutely brilliant.

Fast forward another nine years or 10 years, and The Hobbit films came out, where I then found a YouTube Channel, The One Ring. Net, and began to watch all their shows surrounding all things Middle-earth, and obviously, the build up to the release of The Hobbit films. And so, I decided to read all the books from the very beginning. I started by reading The Hobbit, again, which I loved, and now I didn’t have to picture that much in my head because I already knew the characters and many parts of Middle-earth in my head, because of the films and also knew that I would be going to the pictures to see the film and so I would see what was in the book anyway. Now I could fully appreciate the text, and I can’t wait to read it to my son.

From there in 2015, I decided to read The Silmarillion, with the aid of Rob Shaw and the audiobook, it is the best thing I have ever read, and may ever read. And now, I have read The Lord of the Rings, and so I will look to the future to read the Unfinished Tales, The Lost Tales and all the other works in Tolkein’s legendarium.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

My favourite part of Tolkein’s work would have to be Fingolfin’s challenge to Morgoth. Fingolfin from the very beginning proved that he was a completely, utterly fantastic character. Before the Noldor left Valinor, Fingolfin stood up to his brother Feanor, who drew his sword, without the use of force or aggression. In that moment he proved that he was steadfast, was strong mentally, and had a heart made of something else. When he chose to follow his brother, he showed that he was loyal to him and his father’s house, and all of the Noldor and the rest of the elves and the blessed realm could follow him one day as the High King of the Noldor because of those qualities which he displayed in that moment.

When it came to the battle with Morgoth, Fingolfin proved to all in Arda that Morgoth was not invincible. He proved that Morgoth could be wounded and that he had weaknesses, and that he could be beaten. His splendour was simply beautiful, from the horse ride to the gates of Angband, to his shining sword and shield in the fight, and even his death, was rather spectacular, if not rather heartbreaking. Fingolfin’s life and final fight showed that the curse of the Noldor, through the Oath of Feanor, was something that was not present in all of the Noldor, and that they were prepared to take a stand with their kin.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

My fondest experience of tokens work has actually yet to come, as it will be the experience of listening to my children read The Hobbit (and other Tolkien works) to me. Interestingly, my son a couple of years ago, helped me on a few co-op levels on LEGO The Hobbit game for the PlayStation 3, and forever will those memories stay with me, not just because it was my son and he was playing the LEGO The Hobbit game with me, but because he was actually just so good at it and he loved it so much. After Christmas this year I will read the graphic novel of The Hobbit to my son who is now five and then next year I will read with him The Hobbit. He is almost a fluent reader so I expect him to be able to read it, and I very much look forward to being able to listen to him, and this is also the same for my second son who is younger. The only other thing that could delight me is if my wife suddenly decides to watch the films with me and become a fan. But I doubt this will ever happen.

However, my fondest experience so far would have to be meeting Sylvester McCoy and John Rhys Davies at Sheffield ComicCon 2014. Fortunately I was lucky enough to meet them both and in particular John was a complete joy and pleasure to speak to. He asked me in great detail about my work as a primary school teacher which led him to write a wonderful message on a photograph of him dressed as Gimli, which I will treasure forever. On the photograph he wrote “Children! Behave! Listen to Mr. Thompson as he is wise, smart and will make you better people…” We spoke for a good 20 minutes while there was nobody else coming to see him and I just felt that I was talking to somebody who was just a wonderful person, as well as being an amazing actor.

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

The way in which I approach Tolkein’s work has changed over the last few years, and may continue to change. Tolkein’s works started out as a hobby, something that I was interested in but didn’t really take that seriously. However, now I would say that I take it more seriously. So for me, the seriousness of which I approach his works has gone up to a level which I did not think that it would ever go to, because I didn’t think that I would love it as much as what I have come to love it. For me, that means that now I have read the books, I used to religiously watch TOR.N on YouTube, I listen regularly to The Prancing Pony Podcast, and now I have joined The Tolkein Society and will go to Tolkein 2019.

Moreoever, as a primary school teacher I wish I could do more to teach Tolkein’s work, in particular The Hobbit, in schools so that children get this fantastic experience of something which I didn’t quite have as a child. And actually, because I couldn’t engage with it when I was young, makes me more motivated to pass it on – for me as a teacher, I know how to be able to teach Tolkein’s work to children so that they too can access something which many may never have thought they would before. Whether it’s children like me who struggled with big chunks of text and little imagination, if schools don’t teach it, or the fact that some children who think it isn’t cool – I know that there are so many children out there who I could engage with who otherwise wouldn’t have. Also, sadly, I think parents show the films to their children, and they never consider or forget the literature. So the second part of my approach to Tokein’s work would be to be able to teach it to small children through the parents! I’d get them into The Hobbit too and then the children into all the ‘child-like-ways’, toys, games, videogames etc… so that they can become a lifelong Tolkein fan.

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

In all honesty, I recommend Tolkein to anyone and everyone, even when they have told me that they are never going to be a fan. I can’t help myself but tell everybody how much I love his work and how fantastic it is and that they must read the books, they must listen to the audiobook, they must listen to The Prancing Pony Podcast, they must join The Tolkein Society, and they must do all these things that I have just started to do with the last couple of years because it is just so fantastic. I tell everybody all the time and I will continue to tell them.

Although, I love having better knowledge than all my friends and I’ve been able to tell them and teach him things I didn’t know, but have now learned. For example, getting them to know more about Balrogs in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for example. Finally, the one thing I really love about Tolkein’s works is having the potential for an amazing in-depth discussion over the characters, their motives, events that happen, what could’ve happened, what should’ve happened, and how it would’ve played out if I’d been a character, or even how I would’ve played out if I had written the parts or even a book as part of the legendarium. These kinds of thoughts are something that go round my head a lot and I like sharing these with all my friends, and anyone who will listen.


 

Caity M.’s–Tolkien Experience Project (48)

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 Caity 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 Caity M.’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was introduced to Tolkien’s work because of the production of the Peter Jackson films. I was 11 in December, 2001 when the first film was released, and my best friend/neighbor’s older brother was excited for the films, because he was a book reader. He was a few years older than us, and because I was 11 and he was a cool teenager, I got interested too. I remember vaguely having conversations with him about Tolkien after seeing the first film; he told me that the Lord of the Rings barely scratched the surface of all there was to know about Middle-earth. I remember him saying something about the relationship between Sauron and Morgoth, for example. I was immediately intrigued; I had read and loved Harry Potter around the same time in my life, but that sense of depth hinted at when he told me about Morgoth was different than what Rowling seemed (at the time – I suppose she has tried more myth building since then) to be doing, and was exciting. I began the first book before I watched the first film, and had finished them all by the time the second film was released. I have since read Hobbit, Silmarillion, some of his scholarship, some other stories like Wootton Major and Roverandom, a few Lost Tales (although I’m saving up for History of Middle Earth), and dipped my toe into his languages.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I think its his writing about nature, and his recommendations for how to enter into right relationship with the parts of earth over which humanity has dominion, if I’m gonna get Christian about it. I’ve been doing a lot of rereading in the Tolkien world recently, since the Fall of Gondolin came out this summer, and his writing about animals and landscape does make me feel religious, if I’m being honest with myself, especially in the context of that recent report on climate change. The passages where Gandalf describes his relationship with Shadowfax are really sticking in my mind as of late.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I worked for many summers at an all girls sleepaway summer camp in North Carolina. It’s tucked away in the Blue Ridge mountains, a few thousand feet up, on a lake at the foot of a bald rock mountain we call Old Bald. The camp itself caters to the children of serious, generational southern money. Country Club families from Buckhead in Atlanta and Mountainbrook in Birmingham etc. send their daughters there, because their mothers and grandmothers and aunts all went there too. The campers all go to the same private schools, and rush the same sororities when they go to college. Its an extremely white and privileged place. By no means did I grow up in want, and I am also white, but that camp introduced me to a rung on the tax bracket that I had never seen before, and it was an integral step down the rabbit hole of left wing politics I have fallen into, but I digress. I tended to seek out and try to support the outcast girls, the nerdy ones, because camp could be a brutally lonely place for those more bookish or introverted campers. I absolutely saw my younger self in them, and I myself wasn’t exactly embraced with open arms by the other staff; I had never been a camper there. There was a camper once with very serious ADHD, who many counselors got easily annoyed with, myself included. But one day, after a few summers of getting to know her, I realized she was a fledgling Tolkien reader. We would chat about the books often, which we both really enjoyed. She found my address in the camp bulletin and sent me a drawing she had done of the Durin’s Door illustration from Fellowship. I feel so lucky she sent me that.

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

Without a doubt. I find something new to love with each rereading. I’ve developed a much deeper appreciation for Tolkien’s work, and have a much more difficult time with the racism and sexism of the world he created. I was young when I entered Middle-earth, but I ended up getting a Master’s in Medieval Studies, and as you can imagine, that is a context in which I got to talk a lot of Tolkien very often, with people who have become very good friends. It was a treat! It has also deepened my understanding of the scholastic context from which Tolkien wrote, for better and for worse. As I’ve been rereading recently, and as my own politics have moved towards the centrality of redressing systemic, historical patterns of racism and sexism, all of Tolkien’s imagery depicting the dark eyed, dark skinned hordes make me shudder, especially as the tide of global fascism rises around us. Colonization seems to be given a pass at times in Tolkien, and even his cardinal directions seem racist! North and West, good! East and South? Bad. I struggle a lot with how much of a pass I want to give Tolkien, and men like him more generally. Lets call it the problematic fave conundrum. Is Tolkien a product of his time? Absolutely, and maybe even better than most of that time. Is he worth reading? For me, still of course, yes. Do I understand that his project was inherently focused on a mythology of the British Isles? Sure, ok, fine. However Tolkien’s integral place among the racist and xenophobic history of medieval scholarship and fantasy literature is a stumbling block for me, and the adoption of the Tolkien Legendarium by the worst elements of online racists both breaks my heart, and is something for which I struggle to find a working defense. Of course they love him! Its painfully easy to see why.

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

With reservations, yes, because of how foundational they have been in my life. I can’t imagine my life without loving Tolkien, but it gets harder every day, honestly, due to the context I lay out in my previous answer.


You can follow Caity M. on Twitter for more of her excellent thoughts on Tolkien and other topics!

Paul Mitchener’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (47)

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 Paul 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 Paul Mitchener’s responses:


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

There were two, maybe three stages. The first stage was The Hobbit being read to me when I was 8 or so at school, back in the early 1980s. About a year later, my grandfather recommended him to me, and I read The Hobbit on my own and The Fellowship of the Ring. For some reason, he only had the first volume of Lord of the Rings, though I reread Fellowship several times. When I was first at a new school when I was 11, almost the very first thing I did was go to the library, and notice they had the rest of the Lord of the Rings. I devoured them over the next few evenings.

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

Who’s your favourite child? More seriously, this is one of those answers which changes over time, and with each reading. I love Bilbo’s growth in The Hobbit from bumbling fish out of water to being a crafty hero, the way the world is revealed to the readers at the same time it is to the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, and the tragic grandeur of The Silmarillon.

And there are so many good individual moments. In Lord of the Rings for example, the charge of the Rohirrim on the Pelennor Fields, and Treebeard’s interactions with Merry and Pippin stannd out for me at the moment. If I’m going to answer just one thing, I’ll choose the sheer depth of Tolkein’s work, the way every piece of the landscape has character and history. There’s nothing else like it in fiction.

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

I moved a little away from Tolkien in my early twenties, but seriously reconnected later. There were the movies, but in the wake of the movies I listened to the BBC radio play of Lord of the Rings for the first time, and of course reread the books. And I was struck anew by the great depths, and the sheer mythic reality of Middle-earth. In particular, I seriously appreciated The Silmarillion more than I ever had when I was younger, but it was not only The Silmarillion which felt new to me again.

And there have been other periods of rediscovery. In particular, I recently really enjoyed a group slow read of Lord of the Rings, with a mix of people very familiar with Tolkien and those with less experience.

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

Definitely. Even after the first reading, on subsequent rereads I tended to rush through everything, enjoying the technicolour movie playing out in my brain. Later I started to dwell on the imagined world, drawing out connections between different parts of Middle-earth, and pondering questions such as “what happened to Radagast?” and “where did the Entwives go?” looking for clues in the text.

Most lately, I’m trying to go more slowly, dwelling on each part of the narrative as it comes, not rushing ahead to what comes next, and trying not to use my knowledge of what comes next to inform the present. I’m also engaging more with some of the thematic elements. Tolkien warned us against allegory, but also emphasised that applicability is something different.

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

Certainly! Tolkien’s work is the deepest work of fantasy out there, and there’s nothing else like it.

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have biases about what Tolkien is and is not, informed by popular culture. I’d urge them to forget their biases, especially when it comes to what they think of as “Tolkienesque fantasy”, a term which misleads us about Tolkien’s depth, and engage with the original. It’s fun and something to lose oneself in. One can go as deep as one desires, or just enjoy the world, the story, and the characters.


If you want more thoughts from Paul Mitchener, you can find him on G+!

Marie Prosser’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (46)

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 Marie 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 Marie Prosser’s responses:


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

Honestly, my first introduction to Tolkien’s work was the Rankin/Bass Hobbit and Return of the King films, which my family had copies of on VHS, and I did read The Hobbit as a middle school student. None of this was particularly memorable, though, and I have to say that the Rankin/Bass Return of the King barely spoiled the books at all ;). I read The Lord of the Rings when I was 12, and that was what began a lifelong love of Tolkien’s work.

How it happened was like this: The summer before seventh grade, I wanted to read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, but for whatever reason, could not find a copy of it at the library. So, I was going through the bookshelf in my parent’s office (the one that had their old college textbooks on it), and was quite pleased to find a selection of novels that included the Jules Verne book. Next to it was the Ballantine paperback copies of Lord of the Rings, which I was not overly excited about at the time. But after I finished the book I wanted, I did eventually pick them up. The covers were…not encouraging, to say the least, but I remembered liking The Hobbit, so. I of course enjoyed them immensely. I had reached Return of the King by Christmas break, and I remember I was supposed to be finishing an art project (a grid drawing of a bird). I sat at the bookshelf in my bedroom, and I would read a chapter, then work on the drawing, read a chapter…. I still have that drawing, and it reminds me of the first time I read the books. My mother got it framed for me, because she knew I liked it so much. I re-read the books for the first time in 9th grade, and then again in 10th grade. I don’t really re-read them any more, but that’s mostly because at this point I know them so well I don’t need to; I just look up passages when I want to.

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

I am most partial to The Silmarillion. I love that story, and what he did with creating such a poignant story where everyone fails but there’s still a hopeful ending. The Silmarillion hurts sometimes, but it is so beautiful and I love it.

The part of Tolkien’s writing I love the most is his love of trees and stars. I too love trees and stars, and at this point, it’s difficult for me to say whether I love these things because I read Tolkien, or if I love Tolkien because he shares my love of these things. It is not unusual for me to greet Orion (I mean Menelmacar) when I go outside at night, just as the elves Frodo met in the Shire do.

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

Oh, that’s an easy one! ALEP. A Long Expected Party is a Tolkien-themed event in the Shaker Village outside Lexington, Kentucky every three years. It is AMAZING and I love it very much. The people I’ve met there have become good friends. What kinds of friends? Well, I live with one of them; that’s where I met my roommate. I went on vacation with a bunch of them in June. And I’ve visited Banff and Calgary’s Stampede because one of them invited me to her place. I dated someone who also attends the event, which involved explaining to immigration how we met. So, yeah. It is dear to my heart and important to me and just amazing from so many points of view – hiking in the woods in costume, hanging out at a bonfire, recreating Bilbo’s birthday party, music and dancing, singing ‘Rolling Down the Hole’ at the top of my voice at 2 AM – you know, a good time! Oh, and I teach a Tengwar class there.

Second choice would be visiting Tolkien’s grave in Oxford. I sat next to it and had a nice long conversation, and then left a green stone that I’d brought with me.

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

Certainly. When I first read the book, I mostly just thought about it. I would close my eyes and picture the forests of Middle-earth, and my teacher would ask me if I was meditating. I did make some sketches, I suppose, but I didn’t really know how to engage with a book yet.

When I was in high school, I tackled the Appendices more seriously. I taught myself how to write in runes, and I would often doodle on my schoolwork in them. I would make copies of the runic alphabet for my friends, so they could read the messages I wrote. My boyfriend even wrote a font program so I could type in runes; the first thing I typed was ‘bright blue my jacket is and my boots are yellow.’ I wrote ‘A Elbereth Gilthoniel’ on the wall in the set room during the school musical. I checked Humphrey Carpenter’s biography out of the school library, and was saddened to learn that Tolkien died before I was born – I called a friend and told her that we weren’t even alive at the same time! [The Balantine books I’d read were printed in 1972 and had the ‘respect for living authors’ disclaimer on the back, so it was news to me.] I read The Silmarillion and disliked it. I told my sister about it, though, and she said she wanted to marry Finrod (or Ulmo). A friend lent me Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings after we’d wandered around talking about Tolkien’s work for hours. I also came across the artwork of the Brothers Hildebrandt; I liked Galadriel’s Mirror the best.

When I was in college, I took a slightly more academic approach. My geography class required me to go to the library every week to view videos, and while I was there, I would go up to the Tolkien section and check out a different book of literary criticism on him each week. I was largely disappointed. Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle-earth was the only one that actually taught me something new. I also read Letters and discovered what Tolkien’s opinion of a young American engineer was (that’s what I was at the time, so.) Luckily for me, I went on to take a few medieval history classes, so I likely wouldn’t have made the faux pas about feudalism. Whew! My college roommate (and best friend) learned Tengwar with me, and we wrote on each other’s notes during the classes we took together.

Then, the summer of ’99 was consumed by ‘So, did you hear they’re making a movie of Lord of the Rings?’ and I discovered online messageboards (my home was TORc, TheOneRing.com) Conveniently, Tolkien’s books were on my bookshelf, within reach of my computer, so I learned the ‘look it up!’ rule of answering questions in online discussions. My time there discussing Tolkien’s books in detail with other fans is most of the reason why I know Tolkien’s writing so well. I also decided to read the books aloud to my brothers in 2000. My youngest brother had requested The Hobbit when he was five, mostly because he liked Rankin/Bass’ Gollum, but now he was ten, so I thought he was ready for it. Each evening that summer, I would come home from work, swordfight with my brothers in the backyard using sticks, and then read Lord of the Rings to them after dinner. I drew them a sketch of Helm’s Deep (with labels!) so they could understand the battle and answered their questions as we went. It was a lot of fun, for me and them! I went on to recount most of the stories in The Silmarillion to my youngest brother while I was painting our parents’ living room. He would ask me questions, and I would tell him about First Age elves. I should not be terribly surprised that his middle school reading included Hamlet and The Silmarillion. He is still an avid reader to this day and loves fantasy; he’s currently trying to get me to read The Name of the Wind.

After college, my best friend made me a fleece cloak. It was a revelation to me that if the clothes you wanted to wear didn’t exist in the store to buy, you could make them yourself! I learned how to sew with my mother’s help, and made a dress with lacing on the back and a bodice. The bodice became part of my Hobbit costume and I still wear it. In 2004, I wrote my first fanfiction. It was about hobbits, and mostly nothing happened :P. I went on to write about Maedhros trapped in the Halls of Mandos and a young Elrond at the end of the First Age. I also read a lot of other people’s fanfiction and discovered another way to engage with Tolkien’s work. In fanfic, the whole point was to expand the story, to make your own choices and decisions about what these characters would do, what these places were like, how events unfold. Tolkien’s ‘unexplored vistas’ call out for that! I also discovered the artists Anke Eissmann, Jenny Dolfen, and Catherine Karina Chmiel who imagined Tolkien’s world visually in a way I found very appealing. Their love for The Silmarillion (and certain Sons of Fëanor!) likely keep me coming back to them as my favorite Tolkien artists.

As a teacher, I had opportunities to work Tolkien into my classroom. Did you know that there are examples of all the various types of erosion in The Hobbit? My earth science students found that out when they had to match the passage to the vocab word. Did you know that blond hair travels in hobbit families the same way it does in human families? My biology students got to study inheritance patterns in hobbit family trees. And of course I could always write what was happening in Middle-earth under the date. On October 6th, it was dark in the dell under Weathertop….

I discovered conventions and costuming, starting in 2006 at the Gathering of the Fellowship in Toronto. (Oh, I also had the opportunity to see the Lord of the Rings musical in both Toronto and London; it was very interesting, but not necessarily good. I liked it!) I’ve already mentioned ALEP, so you know where this goes, and I’ve also attended DragonCon three times. My costumes include: an orc, an ent, Varda, Elwing, Curufin, random wood elves and hobbits. Oh, and I made a costume for Finduilas of Dol Amroth specifically so I could make the starry mantle but not wear a blond wig for Eowyn 😛 The costumes from Peter Jackson’s film are very lovely, but I’ve never made a recreation of one. I did get to see them up close at the exhibit in Boston, which was fun.

Most recently, my efforts have been directed towards the Silmarillion Film Project, contributing to a collaborative group effort to adapt The Silmarillion to a television series, spearheaded by Corey Olsen with the help of Trish Lambert and Dave Kale. I mostly help with script outlining, but it’s been great to work with artists – we have maps, we have costumes, we have location scouting, we have artwork…everything you would need to create for this adaptation is fair game to tackle. So there’s been all sorts of fun conversations, like how do the Light of the Trees influence the architecture of Tirion (do all the windows face west?) and what visual changes does Melkor undergo when he is transitioning from fair-seeming to tyrant of Angband, and how do you handle first contact between the elves and the dwarves?

The short answer: I have transitioned from being a passive reader to engaging the text academically, and then later creatively, and I feel that this last is the most fruitful and rewarding, so I intend to keep doing it. I also very much enjoy reading Tolkien’s work aloud.

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

Yes, of course. It’s very good. I would say that The Lord of the Rings is one of the best books ever written, and that it has surprisingly few flaws. People love it for a reason. But I take a strict ‘no pushing’ policy. I have friends and family members who have never read Tolkien’s work, and I do not push them to do so. I recognize that it is not to everyone’s taste, so if someone tells me that they prefer nonfiction to fiction, I’m not going to say, “You know what you should read? Lord of the Rings!” But at the same time, everyone knows I love it. It’s one of the first five things you learn about me, typically – you either find out that I’ve lived in Ethiopia, I’m Catholic, I used to teach high school, I grew up as the oldest of five kids on an apple orchard…or that I love Tolkien.


If you want to hear more from Marie Prosser, check out his great SFF blog: https://domnardireviews.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter: @Nardiviews

Marcel Aubron-Bülles’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (45)

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 Marcel 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 Marcel Aubron-Bülles’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

A really bad sunburn on the first day of our family’s holidays beside the Adriatic Sea in then Yugoslavia confined me to our quarters – and there was that horribly green German three volume edition of The Lord of the Rings.

For the next two days and nights I barely slept and only rarely left the room I was reading the books in. Returning home to Cologne I became one of the youngest members ever of a British Council library and found The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, Pictures, Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey and The Book of Lost Tales I + II and The Lays of Beleriand.

When I had finished those I started reading historical fiction, introductions into Welsh and Old English, and asked the local English bookshop whether they had “something like Tolkien.”

They gave me The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett.

The rest is, as they say, history.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I have to say that in the course of years with different interests shaping and/ or changing my imagination (including the study of British and American History as well as English Literature and Linguistics) I have come to appreciate different things at different times. The Lord of the Rings is, of course, to this day the single most important book in my life; however, I have come to adore and appreciate and respect other titles not generally considered ‘Middle-earth’, that is, his scholarly or Non-Middle-earth works.

Finn and Hengest, for example, I have reasons to assume to be a manuscript for a modern ‘CSI: Linguistics’ TV series; On Fairy-Stories is to me – even if the wording or the argument itself may not sound as polished as one might wish – on the same level as E.M. Forster expounding qualities of the novel as such; Letters from Father Christmas is such a whimsical, lovingly illustrated quasi-autobiography of the writer and father that you can either simply read them out to a rapt audience or mine them for background information on the development of the ‘Legendarium’; and the list continues …

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

The fact I had the privilege and honour to found a literary society promoting interest in the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien which in its twenty year existence has grown to an incredible source of community activities, scholarly publications and events, and the fellowship such societies offer around the world.

Plus: I met my wife Sauronita thanks to the Professor.
Nota bene: The nickname was given by Melkor. No pun intended.

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

Yes, certainly – in the sense of a wider range of approaches to Tolkien’s life and works. It is obvious that theology, medievalist studies and any linguistic efforts are at the forefront of scholarly work in terms of JRRT. However, there are many other fields of interest which can shed light on many still undiscovered aspects of Tolkien’s imagination.

I am particularly interested in the reception of Tolkien’s works in the public eye and the fandom they have spawned, its past, present and future. As I have been a Tolkien activist and volunteer for 25+ years now (and a ‘fan’ myself for more than thirty) I am very much looking forward to be part of this outstanding group of people everywhere in the world, whatever the individual focus may be.

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

Yes, I would.

As the long-time chairman to a Tolkien society it was, of course, my job to convince people to become members of our society and I am very proud to this day that at one fantasy festival of about 150 people which took place in an old medieval castle I managed to convince five people to join us in one evening – the last one demanding I would offer my back so he could sign the application form on it – as it happened in Schwarzenegger’s rendition of “Running Man.” And no, I was spared the pain … he simply signed 😉

But aside from such anecdotes of which there are many I would always ask the person in question first what they do like – is it drama, is it tragedy, is it light-hearted comedy, is it high epic fantasy? – and then I would chose from the wide range of options available a title that person will probably never have heard of as many do not know about Tolkien’s ‘minor works.’ They offer such different approaches there’s always something out there to suggest.

If I needed to supply catch words they would possibly be: heroic romance, epic fantasy, fellowship, literary classics, fandom (always depending on the individual sales pitch!) But again, I would work from what I was being offered by the person asking me for suggestions and then decide what needed to be said or suggested.

I incidentally coined the slogan “Literature. Fantasy. Fandom” for the German Tolkien Society to quickly explain at fairs and conventions what we do as a society – and it has helped people to better understand how we see ourselves and what we do provide as a community of Arda Activists [another term I coined just now. It’s a term-in-development but I think there is potential in this.]

And that is how I would recommend Tolkien to anyone appreciative of (fantasy) literature – there is so much to explore on so many different levels you’ll have quite a few books to read.

There is nobody like him. You might as well read books.

Why not?


For more Tolkien- related material from Marcel Aubron-Bülles, you can find him on Twitter or Instagram, or follow his blog: The Tolkienist.