This post originally appeared over at the now-deceased Snobbery blog. Figured I’d repost here, as folks seemed to like it, back when it went up on January 20, 2014.
When sj declared January to be Tolkien Month and opened up her blog to guest posts about all our love for the man, I was tempted to volunteer. I didn’t, though, because I wasn’t sure if JRR was still my BFF. See, I haven’t re-read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings in a few years now. We didn’t have a fight or anything, JRR & me. I just haven’t felt that need to visit Middle Earth lately for some reason.
But then sj asked me directly if I was interested in writing a post for her. The more I thought I about it, the more I thought, “Hell yeah. I want to do this.” And, thanks, sj, for thinking of me. Here goes.
My friend Barb turned me on to Tolkien the summer after 9th grade. I had walked down to her house to hang out (we lived in suburban west Omaha), but when I got there she told me she wasn’t feeling well and would have to beg off. As a consolation prize, she sent me home with her copy of The Hobbit. I came back a couple days later, wanting more, and she delivered. I spent the rest of the summer immersed in Lord of the Rings. That same year, (1977) Christopher Tolkien published The Silmarillion and I dove into that, as well.
Really, I couldn’t have picked a better time to fall in love with JRR. The Rankin/Bass tv adaptation of The Hobbit came out in 1977, as well, and I ate it up. Watching clips on Youtube now, it feels odd that most of the voice actors are USian, but I loved their voices then, and the show still holds a place in my heart. It got the feel of the story right, I think.
Unlike Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 attempt at animating The Lord of the Rings, which only succeeded in getting everything wrong. Gee, why am I not surprised that Peter Jackson listed it as an influence for his films? Hated that thing. Hated it.
But I kept coming back to the books. Every year, as a rule (sometimes twice). I usually began my reread in September, because that’s when both Frodo and Bilbo’s adventures began. It only seemed fitting. I’d finish up sometime later in the fall, depending on how fast I was in the mood to read (and if I could get away with reading it English class when we supposed to be reading Oliver Twist (blech!)).
As I got older, I started to read with more purpose. Like one year, I focused on the poetry and the songs (my love of Beowulf is JRR’s fault with his darned Anglo-Saxon style versifying. Love that stuff!). Another year, I thought more about Tolkien’s portrayal of women (Yeah, I know. But compared to Jackson’s oafish attempt to shoehorn us into the movies [artificial love triangle, really?], I’ll stick with Tolkien’s “I don’t know how to write women, so to heck with them” approach, thanks very much).
There was the year I tried to turn the books into a screenplay (Because I just knew I could do better than Bakshi. Yeah, that went well, but it was fun to try.). And then there was the year I read with the purpose of copying out all my favorite lines. Which actually took up less space than you might think. I still have the little notebook here. For example:
“I wish we could have a Stone that we could see all our friends in, and that we could speak to them from far away.” –Pippin, VI:321
Thank you, Internet, for making that happen.
Regardless of my intent, Tolkien’s world was always, and still is, a comforting place for me. Like some of the other guest posters here (and sj herself), my adolescence and early adulthood were fraught. And there are lingering aspects of both that keep Middle Earth a good other world to have on my bookshelf. Why not? To quote a librarian from another place I like to visit, “The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day.”
On another note, I never could decide if I wanted to live in Rivendell or in a hobbit hole. They both had their charms.
By writing this post, I was hoping I could figure out why I haven’t been in the mood to read Tolkien in a while. I’m still not sure. Life is definitely nicer than it used to be, so there’s that. It’s also hard to find time in the day for all the new stuff I want to read; re-reads have to force themselves on me more often than not. Maybe, too, it’s because,–to be honest–the last time I read Lord of the Rings, I kept getting bogged down in the prose. I still think JRR’s a master storyteller–The Hobbit is perfect, in my opinion–but I edit too much now; it’s hard to tell that part of my brain to be quiet. And Tolkien, as much as I love him, can write some clunky prose here and there.
But I don’t hold that against him; the writing isn’t all clunky and he got so much else right. Really, now that I’ve said all that, I’m itching for another re-read.