When I first decided to devote the entire month of December (and, obviously, the latter part of November) to posting strictly about Tolkien, my first thought was: What do I have to offer that hasn’t already been said? Why should anyone read anything that I post about the venerable Tolkien and his voluminous corpus? After a while, however, I finally decided that my decades-old fandom of Tolkien gave me enough credentials to talk about my favourite elements of his work, and so here I present the inaugural entry in what I hope will be an annual event: Tolkien Appreciation Month, here on Queerly Different.
My love affair with Tolkien began when I was somewhere between 8 and 9 years old, when my Mom gave me a very old and battered copy of The Hobbit. It was something of a rite of passage, as she had been waiting to share her love of Tolkien with me (her only child) for quite some time. I quickly devoured that book and moved into The Lord of the Rings. Since that fateful reading, I have since revisited Middle-earth countless times in both the written and film form, ranging from Tolkien’s works themselves to works of criticism, from Jackson’s films (all of which I have seen in the theater 3 times each) to message boards devoted to picking apart those films. I have even had the privilege of both taking and teaching courses on Tolkien’s material.
Every time the Tolkien bug bites me, I can literally think of little else than that magical world that so enchanted me all those years ago (and my numerous copies of the films and the books tells you how often that bug bites me). While my original love of Tolkien stemmed from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I have subsequently gained a richer and deeper understanding of not only Tolkien’s literary genius, but also his incredible devotion and intense affection for his created world, its peoples (especially the Elves), and its languages (especially the various strands of Elvish). More than that, however, I have also come to appreciate Tolkien’s academic works, such as his magisterial essay “The Monsters and the Critics,” as well as his lesser-known fictional works such as Leaf by Niggle and Farmer Giles of Ham.
Imagine my excitement when, in 2001 (my senior year of high school) I discovered that a film version of my beloved novels was at last being brought to complete fruition. Like many others, my only cinematic Tolkien experiences had been with the dreadful Rankin/Bass The Hobbit and the slightly better The Return of the King, as well as Ralph Bakshi’s compelling but flawed The Lord of the Rings. When I saw Jackson’s Fellowship, I was immediately smitten, and I have remained so ever since. While I do have some misgivings about a few of Jackson’s choices, as a whole I think he has done a wonderful job translating Tolkien’s work into his own particular vision.
As I got older and made my way through my undergraduate years, my understanding and appreciation for Tolkien’s genius only grew, as I took courses that deepened and enriched my understanding of Tolkien and the context out of which he sprang. Though I have yet to teach a full course devoted to Tolkien, I frequently incorporate the fandom of his work into my course on popular culture, in order to show how sophisticated his work is, as well as how complex and nuanced fan production can be.
Now that I’ve had a chance to teach my own students the joys of Tolkien (or at least a very small part of it), I now realize there is so much more I could do (pedagogically) with him. Though my own scholarship (as some of you may know) focuses on representations of history and issues of gender and sexuality, there is much in Tolkien’s legendarium that fits well with those interests. Indeed, so rich is the vast web of Tolkien’s creation that one can find something there for any interpretive lens to investigate. Though the broader fields of literary criticism and film studies still possess some reluctance into admitting either the work of Jackson or of Tolkien into the canon of significant works, I think there is definitely a case to be made for an interdisciplinary area known as Tolkien Studies. After all, his influence upon the 20th and 21st Century has been vast, so why not reward that influence by giving him his own field of study? If Shakespeare has one, why not Tolkien?
There is, then, much still to blog about when it comes to Tolkien, far more than even an entire month’s worth of blog posts can accommodate. Nevertheless, I still feel the compulsion to share my love and my reflections on Tolkien and his work with the world. I don’t really have a plan as of yet, but I hope to share my thoughts on The Hobbit (which I am re-reading in anticipation of the upcoming release of the final film, The Battle of the Five Armies), as well as on the various pieces of Tolkien criticism that I find enjoyable (I particularly love Tom Shippey’s two magisterial works, Tolkien: Author of the Century and The Road to Middle-earth). However, I’ll also probably make some notes about The Hobbit film trilogy (including a review of the last film), as well as some thoughts about the workings of history as revealed through The Lord of the Rings. As you all know by now, my mind is voracious and roving, so it’s really hard to say what all might appear (all of this is to say that I have blog ADD).
Though much has been written about Tolkien, his work, and his fans, I am of the opinion that there is still much more to explore and much more to be appreciated about the ways in which his works continue to posses relevance for many types of audiences. What’s more, Jackson’s interpretations of Tolkien’s work, as well as the numerous critical pieces devoted to both Tolkien and Jackson, provide even more rich fodder for delving into the increasingly complex web of texts surrounding Tolkien’s work. So, for the next month, I will be blogging about various Tolkien-related things. I truly and sincerely hope that you will share your own thoughts and experiences with his work in the comments section, as I greatly look forward to engaging with others, whether to agree or disagree. Here’s to a month of Tolkien!