The Guardian has a very cute article about reading Lord of the Rings in Lagos, at age 13, by Claire Armistead. Trapped for 6 months in the sweltering Nigerian capital, her mother set her the book to read to keep her out of trouble, and she has since always associated Tolkien’s world with the mangrove swamps and rivers of Africa. She describes imagining Ents as Baobab trees and Nazgul as vultures, and sees spies of Sauron in the crabs in the mangrove swamps. It’s a testimony to the power of personal experience to shape the way we imagine someone else’s worlds, and also shows how important context (cultural and physical!) is to interpreting any text.

And, of course, it’s a strong testament to the power of Tolkien’s world-building, that it holds its magic even in the minds of children reading it in a completely different place and time.

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