It occurs to me that most of my entries in this blog are not personal in nature and do nothing to help truly connect with my fellow Tolkien enthusiasts. In honour of Professor Tolkien’s birthday today, I’d like to share a few words regarding the impact his writings have had on me.
I’ll start by admitting that I am very much a realistic individual. I have never enjoyed fantasy as I knew it before Tolkien: faeries, wizards, magic – as a child, I could hardly imagine such a world where these things existed. And if I couldn’t believe in it, I didn’t want to read or even think about it.
I was almost eleven years old by the time I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien. Previously, my interest had been in science fiction – Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, and so on. My first step into the realm of fantasy was when, at the age of ten, Brian Jacques’ Redwall series somehow captured my interest and began to take up a great deal of my reading time. I say somehow because from what I can remember, it was basically rabbits and badgers and other furry animals talking with one another and going off into battle and doing other humanistic things that animals don’t normally do. At that point, my mother suggested I try reading The Hobbit; I remember my initial response being a rather snobbish, “What the heck is a Hobbit?” The name alone suggested something completely unreal, and the more I heard the word, the more I convinced myself I probably wouldn’t be interested.
I still don’t know if my mother has ever read any Tolkien herself, but where I was an avid reader always in search of a good book, she kept insisting that I at least read a few chapters of The Hobbit before completely making my mind up against it. As I wondered whether or not I could get into a book like that, making every excuse not to (“I don’t have time to go to the library, mom!” “I’m sure they won’t have it there!”), my uncle offered me his copy, assuring me that I would love it…
As it turned out, “love” was quite an understatement. There was something about The Hobbit that felt real, not imagined or made up like all the other stories I’d read. Sure, there were dragons and wizards and other fantasy elements throughout, but they were secondary and did not distract from the main plot, which I liked. It felt more like a historical account or a mythological tale – which, having taken several Latin classes at that point, had been heavily taught in school, and therefore were of interest to me.
I quickly moved on to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Lays of Beleriand, Unfinished Tales, The Lost Road and Other Writings, and so on; and the more I read, the more three-dimensional Middle-earth became. When I struggled to “find myself” during adolescence, Middle-earth became a sort of safe haven. I spent more time reading Tolkien and writing “for fun” essays on The Lord of the Rings than I did trying to make friends or socialise with my classmates. As a result, people thought I was a little weird – but when you’re as passionate about something as I was with Tolkien, you don’t really pay that any mind; eventually, my “weirdness” gained me quite a reputation in middle and high school – I believe “Elf Girl” was what they used to call me – and despite making no serious attempts to fit in with my peers, I found myself quickly attracting many like-minded individuals.
Throughout high school, I continued writing Tolkien essays and character analyses in my free time; at one point, I even submitted a copy to a local college professor, hoping for some input. His reception was both honest and encouraging, and I knew from that moment on that I wanted to become a serious Tolkien Scholar and one day publish some of my essays – and maybe, if I was lucky, publish a book or go on to teach a course on Tolkien.
It was difficult to branch out and make myself known back then (before the social networking era); less than six months ago, I made the decision to begin Tweeting, blogging, and actively trying to participate within the Tolkien community, and in such a short amount of time, I’ve already come much further than I thought. Not long after I began this blog, I became a contributing writer for the Middle-earth Network, and am now doing what I had hoped to be doing ten years ago (I still haven’t published a book or taught any courses, but there is still plenty of time for that). And I am even more grateful now than I probably would have been in my youth. As much as I wanted to be a well-known Tolkien Scholar at thirteen or fourteen years old, and despite all of the papers and analyses I wrote, looking back, I still wonder if anyone would have taken a pre-teen self-proclaimed Tolkien Scholar seriously.
But the greatest recompense to have come from my Tolkien studies and participation within the Tolkien community is, as I’ve probably said countless times before, the community itself. Already I have struck up invaluable friendships with many fellow enthusiasts. I’ve connected with people from all over the world, people of various ages and cultures, people who prefer the books over the films (or vice versa); but they all have one thing in common: their love of Tolkien is what has brought us all closer together. And I strongly feel that the Tolkien community is the greatest fan community out there. I don’t think a person could ever find a friendlier group of people.
It is still very surreal to think that it was ten years ago that I first read and fell in love with Tolkien, and that it has essentially taken up half of my lifetime (which, at twenty-one years old, is a decent amount of time to devote to something).
Like I said before, I had – and still have – a very strong aversion to the fantasy genre. I read the Harry Potter series and some of Narnia, and thankfully, I never got into the Twilight series (sparkling vampires? Excuse me?). Despite my lack of interest in fantasy tales, there is something about The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and everything else Professor Tolkien has written that set these stories apart from all the other tales out there. One can really feel the passion that went into creating Middle-earth. I am sure that if he were alive today, Tolkien would be delighted to see the following he has gained and kept over a span of many decades.
It is my hope that I will soon be able to start posting more original pieces on my blog beyond my “365 Days of Middle-earth” and Hobbit movie updates. I am beyond grateful and appreciative of all the support and encouragement I have received so far, and I look forward to seeing what other doors may open for me in 2012.
Once again, thanks for all the support! A very happy birthday, Professor Tolkien!