Mar 16, 9:05pm
I first read The Hobbit at around 13 years old (45 years ago). I immediately went on to read The Lord of the Rings. At first, I was disappointed to find that Bilbo faded into the background and that there seemed to be a new hero, but soon I was completely entranced, and I have been ever since.
I'm a devoted long-time fan, masquerading as a Tolkien scholar of sorts
I read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit several more times growing up but didn’t explore Tolkien's work any further at that time. Indeed, I didn’t even realize at that point that the hints in The Lord of the Rings at a deeper history were in the process of being published at that very time by Tolkien’s son, Christopher.
When I went to college in D.C., I took a class on Tolkien and Lewis, but as to Tolkien that class only focused on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I honestly don’t recall the professor saying anything that enhanced my understanding of those books very much, though I enjoyed getting the opportunity to read Lewis’ space trilogy, which I liked a lot more than the Narnia books that I had previously read.
Several years later, after we had relocated out west, I had a brief conversation with someone who had mentioned the spiritual nature of Tolkien work. I responded with a comment about The Lord of the Rings and he dismissively said something like “no, the really spiritual stuff.” I thought (and still think) that was a silly, arrogant thing to say, but it did intrigue me, and I finally tracked down and read The Silmarillion. I was completely blown away. I quickly found Unfinished Tales and devoured that, and the three volumes of The History of Middle-earth that had been published by that point. For there on I read each volume of HoMe as they came out, as well as Carpenter’s biography, and Tolkien letters (which I recently had to replace because of consulted it so many times). I also saw the Rankin-Bass and Bakshi cartoons, but I will follow my mother’s advice about those and not say anything else about them.
All during this time, however, my obsession with Tolkien was a very private one. Other than the one brief conversation that I described above, and the college class that I took, I don’t recall having any discussion with anyone about Tolkien of any kind. That was soon to change in a major way.
Some time in 2000 or maybe early in 2001 I learned that some unknown (to me at least) slasher film director from New Zealand named Peter Jackson was making life-action films of The Lord of the Rings. I didn’t have much hope that they would be very good and didn’t pay much attention to the buzz that was starting to be generated. I honestly don’t recall whether I even saw a trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring. Still, I went to see the film a few days after it opened. I was entranced from the moment that Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel started speaking those opening words, “(I amar prestar aen.) The world is changed. (Han matho ne nen.) I feel it in the water. (Han mathon ned cae.) I feel it in the earth. (A han noston ned gwilith.) I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” I didn’t love everything about that film – in fact there were some things that I really hated – but overall I was completely blown away by how much of the feeling of what made Tolkien special to me had been captured – for me (I make no pretension to speak for anyone else).
But I still didn’t really speak about it with anyone at that point, nor did it really occur to me to seek out discussion online (which was still a comparatively new place). However, after I saw The Two Towers it did occur to look at what other were saying. What I read compelled me to join a different Tolkien messageboard (I won’t say which one) so that I could respond to some of the negative comments. Over the next three years I participated in some truly amazing discussions about both the books and the films at that site. I also started reading more scholarship about Tolkien, including Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey and many others, plus, Doug Anderson’s Annotated Hobbit and when they came out, John Rateliff’s The History of the Hobbit and Hammond and Scull’s LOTR Reader’s Companion and their amazing J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide. One book that particularly influenced me was Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth, edited by Flieger and Carl Hostetter (our own Aelfwine). In particularly, one paper by Charles Noad, “On the Construction of ‘The Silmarillion’” really jumped out at me.
Unfortunately, there was a big blow up at that messageboard and I ended up leaving, and after a short amount of time, a friend and I (with some help from a few others) started a new messageboard, The Hall of Fire, which I still run. Some time thereafter, I also joined up here, and I have posted here on and off ever since.
Over the years the discussion about Tolkien has ebbed and flowed at The Hall of Fire, but one discussion that started back in 2006 was a conversation about who actually wrote The Silmarillion. I felt strongly that it was likely that Tolkien himself had written the bulk of it, but in different pieces. It occurred to me that it might be possible to trace the source of much of that book by comparing it to the various drafts published in The History of Middle-earth. Over the following six months or so I proceed to go through the book paragraph by paragraph, making daily posts in the thread at The Hall of Fire, tracing much of the book to specific sources.
When I was done, several people there encouraged me to seek to get my work published. I was resistant to the idea, but I did feel that there might be wider interest in what I had discovered. At some point, I also came up with a catchier tag phrase to add to the original title (which was simply “The Creation of the Published Silmarillion”): Arda Reconstructed.
Over the coming year I sent out numerous inquiries to publishers and got a lot of rejection letters. However, one publisher, Lehigh University Press, expressed enough interest to send the manuscript to a Tolkien scholar to review as an outside reader. That person (I later learned who it was, but I won’t identify him or her), recommended rejecting the manuscript as it was, but thought that it could have value if it was improved. To my eternal gratitude that person gave very detailed advice as to how they thought it could be improved. In particularly, they thought that the line by line comparison was just too detailed, and suggested moving that to tables, and to just keep in the text the most significant observations. That person also suggested that I express more opinions about what patterns I observed. After a lot more work, I resubmitted the manuscript and it was accepted for publication.
After it was accepted for publication, I learned that the next conference of the Mythopoeic Society was going to be held in Berkeley, only a couple of hours from where I live, and I decided to propose presenting an excerpt from the book. The proposal was accepted, and I presented the excerpt at the MythCon (one of my strongest memories of that experience was just before making the presentation how nervous I was after having our friend N.E. Brigand tell me that our friend Aelfwine and a couple of his colleagues from The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship were sitting in the back; suffice it to say that pronunciation of Elvish names is not my strongest point, but I muddled through). The excerpt was then published in the next issue of MythLore, and when the book was published, it was twice a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society’s Inkling’s Studies award.
Most importantly, I had had the opportunity to meet a number of Tolkien scholars at that MythCon and at several others that I attended and presented to after that, and I have continued to correspond with them since that time. I have also continued to read Tolkien scholarship pretty voraciously, to discuss it with folks both here and at The Hall of Fire, and I have published several additional papers at both MythLore and at Tolkien Studies (and I am happy to report that I have another one that is going to be published soon). In addition, Doug Anderson has asked me to review several books for the Journal of Tolkien Research where he is the book review editor, including the stand-alone books of Tolkien's Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin, edited by Christopher Tolkien, and The Nature of Middle-earth, edited by our friend Aelfwine and published last year.
But all during this time, I’ve never really considered myself a “Tolkien scholar.” Just a dedicated Tolkien fan who got a bit lucky.
For the very few of you who actually read all the way through this, thank you!
'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'
The Hall of Fire