Books That Made Me: THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien

So here’s the second in my little series, inspired by The Sweet Sixteens’ December #SixteensBlogAbout theme, “Favorite books and authors”.

Last week I wrote about the book that made me a book evangelist, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and I mentioned how Mrs. Whatley, my eighth-grade teacher, changed my life when she introduced me to the wide world of fantasy and science-fiction. Well, while my reading group was discussing Watership Down, I kept hearing snippets of discussion about the book the other reading group was working on, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I was intrigued, so I read that one too, and enjoyed it.

The dog-eared copies I read every year as a teenager.

The dog-eared copies I read every year as a teenager.

That summer, I visited my sister and brother-in-law in California, and discovered that my brother-in-law is an avid Tolkien fan. When I mentioned enjoying The Hobbit, he had The Fellowship of the Ring in my hand before I even finished my sentence. (Thanks, Mike!) I spent days of that visit lolling about on the sheepskin rug in their den, lost in Middle-earth.

That Christmas, I got my own box set of the books, which I reread over every holiday break through the end of my college years and several times since.

When I love a book, I usually want to talk about it, to anyone who will listen. The Lord of the Rings was a bit different for me, and still is – this is not a book to be analyzed, but to be experienced. Maybe it was because I first read it at such a vulnerable, emotional time of my life – the summer before high school – but The Lord of the Rings is a book that feels like it belongs to me. Doesn’t matter that millions of other readers feel the same way about it – it’s mine.

You can tell me all about its flaws – it’s too long, it’s too high-falutin’, and as George R.R. Martin points out, it oversimplifies many of its themes.

The beautiful leather-bound copy I am currently reading aloud to my son.

The beautiful leather-bound copy I am currently reading aloud to my son.

Reading it again as an adult, I would add: the descriptions go on and on (and on), the female characters are distressingly one-note, and OMG, Mr. Tolkien, can we buy a comma?

But I still have an emotional connection to the story that cannot be denied. I cannot speak rationally about it, so don’t try to engage me in discussions of literary devices or technical merit. I know that, no matter how many times I read the book, I will come away from the last page sobbing great big bittersweet, satisfied tears at the image of Sam returning alone from the Grey Havens.

As a writer, I hope to have even a tenth of that emotional impact on my readers.

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