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This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien fan.
To see the idea behind this project, or if you are interested in sharing your own, visit the project homepage. If you enjoy this series, please consider helping us fund the project using the support page.
I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his artwork for this project. Prints are available on his website!
Now, on to Courtney Petrucci’s responses:
1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
When The Fellowship of the Ring hit movie theaters, I was in fifth grade. My dad suggested we go see it, and based on the title alone I figured it would be boring (as only a ten year old would assume). I had no idea who Tolkien was and I had never heard of The Lord of the Rings, but I went to see the movie anyway.
I remember being entirely immersed in Middle-earth as Peter Jackson imagined it. I was completely in awe. I think it was then that I also learned not to judge a work by its title. I had always been an imaginative kid, but this film was really the catalyst for my lifelong love of fantasy fiction.
After the movie, my mom mentioned that it was based on a book, so I went on the hunt for a copy of Fellowship and buried myself in it. Seeing the film adaptation before reading the book definitely influenced my first reading of Tolkien, but I learned to see Tolkien’s Middle-earth in my own way over my many subsequent rereadings of The Lord of the Rings.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
I’m torn between the epic battle scenes from the LOTR films and the beautiful images of the Shire from the text. I know these are two complete opposites, but both bring out an intense emotional reaction in me. Théoden’s Ride Now! speech gives me this huge adrenaline rush, and the Rohirrim facing certain death yet riding to meet it anyway makes my eyes water. It’s an equally powerful scene in the text. I remember seeing this battle scene in theaters and I can still feel those cries in my chest from the surround sound.
On the other hand, I find the Shire’s green, rolling hills and the slow, simple, way of life my ideal happy place. I enjoy retreating there while I daydream sometimes, and I can imagine myself living in a cozy hobbit hole, content to tend my garden and enjoy many meals and cups of tea with friends. To me, the Shire is the ideal place to make one’s home. Tolkien said he was “in fact a hobbit,” and maybe I would make a decent hobbit too.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
I wrote my undergrad thesis on Gollum as an “unexpected hero”. The bare bones of my argument were that it was Gollum who succeeded where Frodo failed; Frodo decides to keep the Ring instead of throwing it into Mount Doom, and at the last moment Gollum bites Frodo’s finger off to get the Ring and then falls into the fire with it.
My senior year of college orbited around this thesis. It was more important to me than my student teaching, and definitely caused me more stress and anxiety. Now I look back on that year and remember my hours sitting in the library reading and highlighting all the work on Tolkien I could get my hands on, and I miss it. Despite all the sleep lost over drafting, editing, and meeting deadlines, I wish I could go back to those quiet hours that were entirely dedicated to learning about Tolkien and his work. I miss talking out my scattered thoughts and questions with my classmates and the excitement we shared when we had some small epiphany. My undergrad thesis is my favorite experience with Tolkien’s work so far.
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
I think my initial approach to any of Tolkien’s texts, especially his essays and letters, starts out as academic. I read with the purpose of answering a question. But when I reread his works once those questions are answered, I let myself slide into the world of Middle-earth to find the Escape he talks about in OFS [On Fairy-Stories]. Sometimes a new question will pop up while I revisit his stories, but for the most part I let myself relax and enjoy my subsequent readings.
I’ve always admired his artwork; I’ve never tried to interpret his art through a scholarly lens and I don’t think it’s supposed to be scrutinized or dissected the way his written work can be. I went to the Tolkien exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in 2019 to see his originals and how they developed, and I found such joy in simply being able to see them for myself.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
Of course! I think anyone who loves reading should try out Tolkien’s work. His extensive world-building is perfect for readers who are looking for escape and immersion, and his use of languages and mythologies continue to provide scholars with academic material. I wouldn’t, however, recommend Tolkien to my students who don’t already like to read. Since most of Tolkien’s work, especially LOTR and The Silmarillion, is long and complex, people who aren’t big fans of reading might be turned off. For those readers, I might recommend The Hobbit, or at least a section of it to start.