Meeting Tolkien

Happy Hobbit Day!  Today we celebrate the birthdays of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.  And yesterday we also had the “birthday” of sorts of The Hobbit itself.  I recently read another post of other people’s memory of their first exposure to Tolkien and his lasting effects on their lives, which got me to thinking.

And so I discovered that after all these years, I have misplaced when I first “met” Tolkien.  In sixth grade we had to read selections from various classics: The Odyssey, Beowulf, Robin Hood, and ultimately The Hobbit.  At the time we only read “Riddles in the Dark,” and afterwards I largely forgot about Hobbits and Middle Earth.

One of my sisters read The Hobbit, but she did not like it.  She was confused by it, and fell prey to what I describe in “The Problem with Fantasy.”   And so, for many years, I avoided the book.  I read a lot, and was always looking for more, but I was guilty of the same fears (though second hand) and so I always put off reading The Hobbit, saying I’d get to it later.  In a sense, reading The Hobbit for the first time became a reluctant goal of mine.  If only I had remembered the first taste of “Riddles in the Dark” maybe I’d have started my “adventure” sooner.

I first read The Hobbit in full for my ninth grade English class; we had to do monthly reports, but were allowed to choose from a list what we wanted to read.  TH was on that list, and so I took the plunge and never looked back.

I’ll be honest; the “love affair” didn’t start immediately.  For much of the first two thirds of the book, I just felt it was okay, with brief moments of greatness.  But then I reached “Flies and Spiders” and I was caught fast.  I couldn’t finish the book fast enough.  And afterwards, I couldn’t wait until I’d read it again.

I have my English teacher at the time to thank for my further “enslavement.”  After reading my paper, seeing what I had read, she mentioned off hand that there was a sequel, and that I’d probably like that as well.  Before this point in my life, I never really bought books; I always took them out from the library.  The Lord of the Rings was the first major book purchase I ever made: a one volume, paperback edition that was worth a whole month’s allowance at the time.  And so I began my adventure anew.  I had reached the Old Forest with Frodo and Co. when I came down with pneumonia…I was sick as a dog…and I remember trying to trudge through LotR.

When I finally had some functioning brain cells, but still was too sick to return to school, then I flew.  In the first year after reading TH and LotR, I read TH twice and LotR three more times.  Throughout high school, I would read LotR another two times, until it got to the point that my poor paperback copy had to be glued back together practically every time I opened it.  During this time I was also introduced to the Silmarillion, which as a lover of history, I also loved.

These three books, along with a few others, became like close friends to me (and still are) and each re-read was a new visit, a new adventure.  Unbeknownst to me, I was harvesting the fruit of applicability.

After high school, I continued to re-read TH, LotR and S, but I began to branch out to read Tolkien’s other work; mainly Unfinished Tales, Leaf by Niggle, Farmer Giles of Ham and Smith of Wooton Major.  I was hooked, and I wanted everything Tolkien I could get my hands on.  This, of course, also meant that I was once a fan of the movies, seeing them all multiple times in theaters and on DVD.  As time went on, and the newness and excitement of the movies wore off, I began to see what I had not before:  the movies are nothing but a pale shadow of the master work which inspired them and lack the core of the written work: its implicit applicability.

And so my desire to discuss and interpret both movies and the books began.  I had no friends who had read the book, but they still suffered through many of my rants and “great” applications.  One day it just clicked, and Wandering Paths was born.  I’ve been writing about Tolkien’s work ever since, searching for new and interesting applications and insights and hopefully inspiring others to actively read and re-read Tolkien.

I’d like to believe, through it all, that I’ve been following the directive of Tolkien in his lecture “The Monsters and the Critics.”  I try to approach his work as a complete entity, like a piece of history or as stipulated by Tolkien, a written record of past adventures.  It is the tower described in Tolkien’s allegory, and it is my wish to discover and reveal the manifold vistas from that tower.  Part of the wonder of reading Tolkien, particularly re-reading Tolkien, and reading critical analyses is the new perspective it brings to his work, it is constantly made new.



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