My Life Because of J.R.R. Tolkien
Happy Tolkien Reading Day or, as I call it - and honestly it should be called this instead - World Tolkien Day. Since its conception in 2003 by the Tolkien Society, its aim is to encourage fans and readers to celebrate and promote the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien, usually by reading their favorite passages! As an avid fan of Tolkien’s work, I wanted to share with you my personal feelings about J.R.R. Tolkien. This is no academic analysis of why I find him to be one of the greatest writers of his day. After all, he is the one who paved the way to (modern) mythopoeia. The reason I am writing this is to express how much his writing and legacy means to me. Per the tradition of the Tolkien Society (as well as numerous fellow fans across the world), I would first begin with a quote…
In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
My first vivid memory of my ‘encounter’ with Tolkien was when my uncle would tell us children, a large number of cousins, my siblings, and me, stories after dinner. It was one of those special occasions for us, despite the fact, being small at the time, we certainly had a great deal of more dynamic fun - swimming at the beach, running around barefoot, play fights, real fights, you name it. But those nights, around a table with bellies heavy with food, we were in our element. Wide-eyed and breathless, we would listen to our uncle, a man who is capable of extreme seriousness and humor depending on what mood you catch him in, reading to us from The Hobbit. On other days he, like Tolkien to his children, would tell us what he dubbed “The New Tales” of royal bloodied warriors and sorceresses, driven from their homes by remnants of Sauron’s armies, with implications that most of their families and people were slaughtered or were under other dire circumstances such as slavery. To this day, I still remember the wildfire feeling of excitement, dread, joy, and other emotions jumbled within my small body - from doing my part to keep the evils of Sauron and his master, Morgoth, at bay. It left me dreamy - always in my head thinking of worlds far beyond, worlds that caused an insatiable desire to know more. I am sure my family felt this way too, but it did something to me - like how Bilbo felt torn between being a Baggins and a Took, an odd feeling to many Hobbits. I was spellbound. This was the true turning point, I feel, where my endless hunger for stories, worlds, libraries, and adventure was fully cemented.
When I was older and able to read on my own, I insisted on being given anything by and about J.R.R. Tolkien. I memorized every single song, including the Song of Beren and Lúthien, which still puts me into a state of tears and longing. To this day, every summer without fail, I reread The Hobbit per tradition, with the rest of the books following behind. My siblings and I find the full day to watch the extended edition of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. It is one of the few pastimes my siblings and I have in common; we think out each line by heart. Often, my family and I fight about who is who in each story. To this day, I insist I am very much like Gimli - fiercely loyal to loved ones, fiery, and (somewhat) brave, and I deeply admire Galadriel, one of the greatest of elves who surpassed all in knowledge and power. I find myself in each character - even in figures like Saruman and Gollum- as Tolkien also writes a testament to humanity’s darkness, which I find it to be cathartically honest.
Though a lover of folklore who studied it at NYU’s Gallatin School, it took me many years to realize that the references within Tolkien’s mythopoetic world included Christianity and Norse mythology. There is always something new to learn. I’ve only recently learned to appreciate Tom Bombadil, who I thought for a long time was an annoying character but I now realize could have been Tolkien himself. I am utterly charmed by him now - although I admit that I still tend to roll my eyes. Also, as a lover of tricksters above all tales and characters, I can see Gandalf as the trickster in his transformation from Grey to White, embodying or obtaining knowledge and power that may seem impossible to other characters, his ability to make friends and gain the trust of all people of Middle-earth. Middle-earth continues to grow just as long as I continue to engage, learn, and read.
I could go on. Truly. I can only hope, as a future librarian, as a reader, and as an aspiring writer, I can capture Tolkien’s deep scholarly and intimate understanding, pursuit, and love of worlds beyond our own.
I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things...