Being a Tolkien fan is all about the reading experience

It occurred to me the other day that I could probably be classified as a bit of a Tolkien fan. I’ve been soaking up Tolkien’s books ever since I was about 10.

Yes, like a geeky Tolkien fan I had to pose in the entrance, such as it was - you could circle it, just like the door Aslan made to get rid of the Telmarines in .Prince Caspian'.
I had to pose in the entrance of the 2012 Hobbit Artisan Market in Wellington …but that’s the limit of geek, for me.

I must have read The Lord Of The Rings a dozen times or more. The Hobbit as often. I have the maps, I saw the movies, and I went to the exhibition of movie props.

But I wouldn’t call myself a total Tolkien fan. I don’t dress up in the costumes – you know, green cloaks that render you invisible against green grass, green rocks, green water, green sky etc.

My copy of The Lord Of The Rings is from three different editions. Nor do I collect memorabilia, or go to Armageddon comic-con gatherings to ogle merchandise and be photographed beside the guy who swept the studio floor on alternate Sundays while they were shooting out-takes for The Return of the King.

It is a limited kind of enthusiasm; and I also view what Tolkien did in a literary sense with a suitably critical eye; he wasn’t perfect, and he wrote a lot of stuff the hard way.

So what is it, for me? Well, it’s the reading experience. Tolkien created a world that became real for the reader. He did it by description – if you open The Lord Of The Rings at virtually any page, you’ll find evocative descriptions of the settings – the sounds, the smells, the feel.

He did it by depth; his world was rich with its own mythology and history, rich with culture, with language, with peoples of all kinds, all of them carefully described.

Tussock and Echium - Patterson's Curse, in the top of Lindis Pass.
Not actually Rohan. Tussock and Echium – Patterson’s Curse, in the top of Lindis Pass.

He did it with scope; his themes struck chords with the very heart of western thinking, western mythology, and western culture; epic battles between good and evil, between right and wrong. Clear-cut, scarcely shaded in any greys.

And he did it by giving us heroes we could identify with – not Aragorn, who was the archetypal mythic  hero; but the hobbits, who were ordinary, everyday folk. Effectively, people like us – people who we could identify with and journey with, who became heroic.

A message of hope, swathed in all the things that speak to our sense of culture, right, wrong – and place.

That’s why I like Tolkien. Have you read his books? What draws you to them – for you, is it the reading experience, or something else?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: more writing tips, humour geekery and other stuff.

8 thoughts on “Being a Tolkien fan is all about the reading experience

  1. I’ve read Tolkien about once each decade since I was a teen, each returns a re-grounding in that which made the fantasy genre great. As you say, his work wasn’t perfect, but I appreciate it in the context of its time. The world he created was rich and the story he told was epic, yet the characters were you and I and everyone else, who we are and who we wish we were.


    1. Absolutely. And he continues to speak to us today in these ways – which, I suspect, is something that only a few contemporary authors will achieve. Though, to be fair, that was also true of authors in Tolkien’s time!


  2. I’ve enjoyed reading both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I think the films for The Lord of the Rings trilogy capture the wonder and magic of Middle Earth, as well as the essence of the books. However, The Hobbit – so far – wanders far off the book’s path and feels like poorly written fan-fiction.
    That being said, if I had to choose, I’d pick up The Hobbit for a re-read before the Lord of the Rings. It’s a lighter, happier journey. The Lord of the Rings is like a heavy feast, while The Hobbit is like a nice, light lunch – or elevensies.


    1. I like the idea of elevensies… just after the second breakfast 🙂

      I agree. It ran like very poor fan fiction. Yet I think the script-writers know what they’re doing – Phillipa Boyens once explained to me how she, Jackson and Walsh had adapted The Lord Of The Rings. The book didn’t meet filmic convention – she explained why, and I could see the reasoning. I suspect one problem with The Hobbit has been trying to make a two movie plan work to three – this got landed on them late in the process and I did get the impression that Jackson was trying to stretch what he had. The pacing of the last sequences was brilliant, albeit theme-park spectacle; but there seemed a lot of padding in the early sections. Possibly a ‘directors cut’ would fix some of this, maybe. Uh, or not…


  3. I am a total Tolkien fan although I don’t dress up either 😉

    I just wanted to say I perfectly agree with you but would like to add that in the course of 25 years the reading experience has changed as I have changed. The paragraphs and scenes I liked with 20 aren’t the same as now with 40 and in rereading I always find new phrasings and moments I seem to have overlooked in the course of well over 50+ readings 🙂


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