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The book that's to blame for the way I turned out.....

The Lord of the Rings, Alan Lee illustrated

Some 20 years ago, my best friend in elementary school introduced me to Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings (1978) animated film. I had already seen, multiple times, Rankin/Bass's The Hobbit (1977) and The Return of the King (1980). I never knew there was a story "between" the two movies I'd seen. In all honesty, I'm not even sure I knew the movies were based on any written story--- as this was BEFORE the world of books really opened up for me. I was a television/movie bug, even scheduled my summer sleeping time around shows that I was desperate to see. Perhaps I can blame Tom Baker's Doctor Who on my chronic insomnia as my local public television station only played those glorious episodes at 1am, and sometimes, horribly, at 2am....

Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings (1978)

But, to find out The Lord of the Rings was an animated film I had never seen...and to find out from the same friend it was also a book, which I had never read... my curiosity was piqued. My best and probably only friend at the time, loved The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which meant that my liking this movie was something cool. And, I had to read the book!

 The Return of the King (1980)

My enthusiasm and eagerness to read LOTR must have made an impression on my parents. And, though I don't remember actually asking for it, I received a, gloriously Alan Lee-illustrated, hardback single-volume edition of LOTR for Christmas, my 6th grade year. I adored everything about the book--- though I wouldn't get around to reading it until that summer.

And, what a summer it was.

I don't recall doing anything else during my 12-year old summer besides reading LOTR and sleeping. The 1200-page tome weighed more than any book I'd ever owned... more than any book I'd ever seen, outside the unabridged Webster's dictionary.

Rankin/Bass' The Hobbit (1977)
Every morning/afternoon I woke---ate if I was hungry...began reading it I wasn't. I moved from my bedroom, carrying my cherished book to our house's front living room. There was a certain reverence about our front room. It was sectioned off from the rest of our busy house. There was no television, no radio. The only things in the front room were our piano, organ and a Victorian-esque sofa and chair that had belonged to my grandmother. The room was not used except at Christmas when the tree went up or when my brother or I were practicing piano. The room was perfect for the solemn and important task I planned to undertake.

I curled up on my grandmother's Victorian-esque couch, slipped the delicate dust-jacket from my book (I had no intention of even creasing the edge of its gloriously illustrated cover), and began my quest through Middle Earth.

The world around me dissolved as I slowly read, page-by-page, word-by-word, the adventures of Frodo Baggins and the rest of his fellowship. I sank into the pages of Tolkien's text, begging to be included on the journey.

The passing summer was all but a blur of scenes in Middle Earth, interspersed with the drudgery of dragging myself back to bed when I could no longer keep my eyes open to read.

About mid-way through the summer, I became aware that something magical was happening, though I couldn't put it to words. At the time, I didn't even realize that the television was ignored-- which is saying A LOT, considering I was well known for snatching the TV guide from the Sunday paper and circling, show by  show, how I was going to spend my waking hours... I was more well-versed in TV trivia than adults twice or even three times my age.

Of course, all this had to do with living in an inner-city urban area with no girls my age nearby. With nothing to do during the summer, other than occasionally practice the piano, I had to find something to occupy my restless mind--- television was handy *sigh*

At some point, around mid-summer, while I was discovering the unnamed magic, I recall only one "scene" of the outside world---the so-called real world---that intruded during my reading. My mother came into the living room and said, quite brusquely, "Why don't you go do something? All you've done all summer is keep your nose stuck in that book!" Funnily--- I don't recall her ever saying anything remotely similar to this during my previous summer's marathons of constant television watching...strange.

I knew what it was to empathize with my favorite TV characters--- though, I don't think I knew the word for it at 12, or understood exactly what it was. With my summer reading of LOTR, it was first time I discovered it was possible to feel the same way about characters in a book. I physically ached every time one of the Fellowship was injured, I felt a hard lump in my throat every time one of them cried. When Gandalf and Boromir fell, I was devastated and distraught--- main characters didn't die, not in all the TV shows I'd watched, the heroes always came back to fight again....someone else might die in the show, but you didn't SEE it and you certainly didn't FEEL it.

This book opened doors and windows in my mind that I didn't even know existed. And, at the time, I would never have been able to express properly what was happening. I'm not even sure I can properly express it now.

I never knew there could be such magic in words...such beautiful and tragic spells woven in the combination of syllables. I was enthralled by Tolkien's masterpiece from page one. I wanted to speak every language, memorize every riddle, sing every song and poem. There was such a feast for my ravenous young mind.

Poetry had never been something I thought about before...suddenly I wanted to fill pages of old journals with my own poems and songs---ones that would be fit to remember, ones that future generations might recite or sing, like those so fondly remembered in the pages of LOTR.

I will never forget when I finished reading The Lord of the Rings the first time. Sitting on my grandmother's Victorian-esque sofa, I closed the book (for what felt like the last time) and I cried. I ran my hand across brown-fabric cover, my legs completely numb from holding the weight of the book for hours and I wept. The lump that had lodged itself in my throat had broken free. My face burned from the intense emotion.

For several days, I did nothing but sleep and mope around the house. I guess I felt a bit like Frodo, after he'd returned from his long quest... after he'd carried the ring for so long. Now what? That's what I wanted to know.... now what?

Bless the resiliency of youth! My emotional plummet wasn't permanent, but I was forever changed by it. There was a bigger world out there, than I was ever aware of. And, now that I'd had a taste of it, there was no going back. Even if old Bilbo said you could go "there and back again"... you're never really the same for it. And, you certainly wouldn't want to be.

~~ Namárië ~~


  1. Smashing essay! And a lovely reminder of why we read, and why we write.

    Love this. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Wow - this is interesting because I can relate - I probably read it when I was 12ish and it was like I was hooked on drugs; despite it's massive size, I read it all over again afterwards - great post.

    1. Thanks! And, being "hooked on drugs" is about the truth of it... I don't even know how many times I've reread the book over the years... :-)


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