Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron.”
– C.S. Lewis
I believe it was Henry David Thoreau who stated that the periods of one’s life could be marked by a particular book one had read. For me, that was The Lord of the Rings.
It all started with a boy. Or rather, with the book the boy was reading. You see, I rather liked that boy who sat across from me in sixth grade homeroom, and there was a book he was excited about. I figured that if I read the book he liked, then he might like me, too, and things might progress along whatever lines a sixth grade romance follows.
The progression did not go the way I had hoped, and even though my sixth grade dreams of romance were dashed, I did end up falling in love- with Middle Earth. The book that he and I read was The Hobbit, and after reading it in a few days, I wanted to read more about Hobbits. So I wandered back into the school library’s fiction section into the ‘T’s and there found a set of books called The Lord of the Rings, which I promptly devoured. Repeatedly. Then I discovered that the BBC had done a radio show with a full cast, sound effects, and music and listened to that over and over again. My parents bought me a boxed set of the paperbacks (replete with their terrible cover art) which I read and read and read until I loaned them to a friend in college who was not as careful with her books as I was. I got the books back, but now they sit on the bookshelf as an heirloom of sorts. A different boxed set gets read these days, thought it won’t be too long before they, too, will have to be replaced by another set. Paperbacks are convenient to carry around, but they don’t stand up well to repeated readings across the years.
So what was it that drew me in so thoroughly? Then, at age eleven, it was the adventure- Frodo’s task to destroy the Ring, running from the Nazgul, the fight and flight through Moria- and the characters. The Hobbits were fun and they were like me- small and ordinary, but potentially capable of accomplishing great things if their courage held. I fell in love with elves for the first time and encountered some of the strongest women I had ever read about in fantasy to that point. There was the world itself, with landscapes so clearly defined they felt real, or like they had been real once upon a time. I wanted to live in all the beautiful places- Hobbiton, Rivendell, Lothlorien, even Gondor, though I cared for that city less than the other places.
Another important point for my eleven-year old self was Tolkien’s language and tone. Up to that point (and later, to a degree), the implication I had always picked up from those around me was that fantasy was a genre meant for children, and that serious people read serious books. But there, with The Lord of the Rings, was a work of fantasy that felt solid, believable and didn’t pander to me, as a young reader (this being before The Hunger Games and Harry Potter). There were good guys and bad guys, but also heroes who could be corrupted and ancient villains who could find some bit of redemption. Black, white, and all the gray in between. Adventure, friendship, and a mythical world that felt as real as my own. What more could an eleven-year old ask of a book?
Now, twenty years and twenty-some readings later, I still read the books, still find things I have never seen before, and still love it all.
Sméagol was right. Once it gets hold of you, it never lets you go.