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1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?
My mom showed me the Rankin/Bass Hobbit cartoon in 1977 (I was 9 years old). She also had a Hobbit/LOTR set on our bookshelf (which now, battered and much loved these many years later, has pride of place in my collection), and so I read The Hobbit either immediately before or immediately after. I honestly can’t remember which. I do remember that I moved immediately into LOTR after reading The Hobbit. So my first experience of Tolkien was NOT through the books but was through visual media. I see this as a great way to take part in discussion with people who first came to Tolkien through the Jackson films, as we have something in common – our first impressions of Tolkien were not text-based, but we still find things in the text to absolutely love.
2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?
That has changed over time. At first, when I was a child, it was the fairy story aspect. I loved stories about elves and wizards and dragons, and Tolkien was definitely talking to me on that level. I spent my middle (primary) and high school years escaping into the world Tolkien had created (I will freely admit that I got lost there more than once). As I got into my twenties, I began to read the works from a different perspective and to see themes of friendship, and fidelity, and hope in Tolkien’s writing. Those themes sustained me through more than a few dark times. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the inspirations and sources that Tolkien drew on, as well as the language. Tolkien was my gateway to Old and Middle English, and woke the word-nerd in me. I think the language is something that has always drawn me to Tolkien’s work, but I’ve only recently (in the past ten years or so) actually become aware of that.
3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?
This is a really hard question to answer. Every time I read LOTR, or The Silmarillion, or Smith of Wooton Major, I find something new. That’s one of the joys of reading Tolkien: there is always something new to discover, no matter how many times I’ve already that book or that chapter or that passage. I think I’d have to say my favorite experience is reading “On Fairy Stories” for the first time and connecting that to the world that Tolkien has built in Middle-earth. That was a real “light bulb moment” for me. Here, in a few pages, was Tolkien explaining to me WHY fairy stories (and LOTR) matter. It was the author himself telling me that my love of faerie was justified, and that I was not alone in yearning for other worlds (while at the same time still appreciating the world we all share).
4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?
Absolutely yes and absolutely no.
Absolutely yes in that I now read Tolkien more critically, more closely. I am now more cognizant of word choice, and when I see a word like “dryad” I wonder “Why did Professor Tolkien use such an obviously non-Germanic word there?” I look for connections between LOTR and The Silmarillion and the older stories, especially those “blink and you miss it” moments that would have been fascinating textual ruins to a reader in 1960. (Eärendil? Who is that? And where can I learn more???)
Absolutely no in that I still read Tolkien (and especially LOTR) for the story. I love the characters, and the relationships between those characters. I am still overwhelmed every time I read about Théoden leading his people into battle, and terrified when Frodo encounters Shelob in the tunnel.) The Black Riders still frighten me; The Dead Marshes still move me in ways I don’t quite understand; and Gandalf still reminds me afresh, every time, that pity (in the original sense of the word) might just be the salvation of us all.
5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?
I would and I do. I don’t expect that everyone will enjoy it, but I still recommend it. I love Middle-earth, and the people who inhabit it, and I get excited when I meet other people who feel the same.