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I was very young when I was first introduced to The Hobbit. I could not have been older than seven when I was swept completely into the journey with Bilbo and the dwarves on their way to reclaim treasure from the dragon. When the story was over, I wanted the magic to continue, so I sought out my father’s copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, which was much more difficult to understand. (Tolkien loved him some semicolons, and I was a second grader.)
The truth was, I wasn’t quite ready for Frodo’s epic adventure then, so I had to put it aside for a while, disappointed by my first introduction to Tolkien’s next generation. I thought Bilbo’s nephew, Sam, Pippin, and Merry were a bit boring. It took them too long to do anything. I did not get beyond them stealing mushrooms, as if that was even noteworthy. Already cynical, I snapped the cover shut and quietly returned that tale to the bookcase to collect dust again in my parents’ home.
Fortunately, very soon after this, I had a birthday. I unwrapped a boxed collection of books about a place called Narnia. (I still have that same, now battered box in my office today, the spines of the well-loved novels contained within, cracked and fading from a girl’s constant rereading.)
Upon adult reflection, that proved to be the exact right time for me to meet Lucy, Susan, Peter, and Edmund. I could understand Aslan before I understood Aslan. I think now that C.S. Lewis kept me enthralled with fantasy and, in this way, he would serve as a kind of bridge that would take me back to his fellow Inkling.
Time rolled by, as it inevitably does, and there was a summer evening on which I went with my mother to the library with no particular agenda apart from having something to do. Wanting to escape from the mundane of an endless August, I somehow found Smith of Wooten Major, which I read sitting cross-legged on the commercial orange carpet in the middle of the fiction aisle as grownups walked around me as if I were an island. (If you’ve not heard of it, this is a wonderful Tolkien tale about magical cakes and the Land of Faery that lingered with me long after I forgot the title.)
By then I was a mature 10 or 11, and my hunger for Middle Earth began to rumble again.
Something must have changed about how I read stories because the next thing I knew, I had blown the dust off The Fellowship’s cover and consumed The Lord of the Rings in full. The complex sentences that had once meandered aimlessly like the feet of homeless rangers now rang with the music of elves, the rhythm of poetry.
Looking back at my own intellectual development, I suppose that was the exact right time for me to meet Strider in Bree. I could understand the clash between evil and good that is illustrated by Mordor and the West long before I understood the nature of evil and good. I felt I had entered a realm that helped me see my own world in a different way while entertaining me as much as The Hobbit had once done. That is something only a masterpiece can accomplish.
Of course, I understand Tolkien is not everyone’s cup of tea. His style is that of a man who reveled in classic works. He takes his time on paper, though I find this builds suspense if one is patient enough to let the action unfold. To be enveloped by his story … to start to like his semicolons.
For some reason, I felt inspired to pick up Tolkien’s magnum opus a couple nights ago and have started reading again from the beginning, and I feel thus far as if I’m spending time with a very old, very good friend.
Additionally, I know I will get something new from the story this time around because I have changed, as we tend to do, since the last time I read it. I am already annoying my husband by keeping the reading lamp on late.
I know I am not alone in my own taste in literature as Tolkien’s works are loved by many. Still, I wonder what other books have meant as much to others as The Lord of the Rings does to me. What works do you reread with joy? Why?Published in