Saturday, September 22, 2012

Heading to Middle Earth

I’m currently on a vacation of sorts, in a much-loved realm, though I haven’t left home. 

I’m talking, of course, of the pilgrimage I take to Middle Earth every few years, in the form of re-reading my favorite novel, The Lord of the Rings.  (and yes, though it is call a trilogy, or even THE trilogy, it is really just one long novel)

I first read TLOTR in the autumn of ’81, at the start of eighth grade, at the impressionable young age of thirteen.  My sister had been hounding me to read it for a couple of years, telling me how much I would love it, but for some reason I put it off.  I was more into straight science fiction—my head was caught up with rocketships and aliens.  But, as summer was slowly waning I was finishing up Anne McCaffery’s original Dragonrider’s of Pern series, and I found it one of those books that I didn’t want to end.  And while it was billed as science fiction, it certainly had a fantasy feel to it, so perhaps a grain of interest in that ‘other’ speculative genre was planted, and perhaps I had that with me a short while later when I was perusing the stacks at my local used bookstore.   It was there that I came across the Hobbit and TLOTR books.  There they were; battered, dog-eared mass market paperbacks with those wonderful 1970s era covers (painted by Tolkien himself—they’ve always been my favorite, and what I’ve always felt were the ‘proper’ covers for the books).  

My hand moved forward, and I picked them up and bought them.  Later, with the darkness of an early autumn night, I read those famous words: ‘in a hole in the ground lived a hobbit...’  I was hooked.

TLOTR was the first real work of fantasy that I’d ever read, and it remains the best I’ve read, and my favorite.  Tolkien’s garnered quite a few imitators over the years, and I’ve read most of them, and they pale in comparison to the rich, deep, majestic world Tolkien created. 

I began the habit of rereading TLOTR every couple of years, always in the fall, for these books just have an autumnal feel to them.  I find I never tire of revisiting the world and the characters; each read brings new discoveries along with the joyous reliving of favorite scenes and passages. 

When the Peter Jackson film versions came out, I certainly enjoyed them, and I’ve watched those several times over the years, but they can never replace for me the reading of the novel.  For one thing, the movies, by necessity, speed everything up, and one of the great pleasures of visiting Middle Earth is to enjoy its coziness and its scenery.  I will readily admit that it is a slow moving novel, but I think in this case that is one of the reasons I like it, because in its indolence is the time to enjoy the beauty of Tolkien’s language, and the world that he painted with those words.   (In the books, I'd forgotten that over seventeen years pass from Bilbo's 111st (eleventy-first!) birthday party to when Frodo leaves the Shire)  Tolkien was a great lover of nature, and this is reflected in his prose.  One really feels each tree leaf and blade of grass as the Hobbits walk through the Shire, or each drop of rain as they lounge around Tom Bombadil’s house on Goldberry’s Washing Day. 

In the House of Tom Bombadil—heh, speaking of slow sections of the book, this is a chapter where even such a slow tale as TLOTR has come to a grinding halt.   It is no wonder they left it out of the movie.  But, I’m glad they did...not because I don’t like the chapter...I happen to love it.   It may be my favorite chapter of the book, and I really can’t explain why.   There is just something so absolutely charming about Bombadil, and something so dreamy and comforting about his home in the old forest.   It both opens a longing in my heart and satisfies it at the same time...I could dwell here in this place for a long while.  So yes, I’m glad they left it out of the film...the movie could not do it justice.  And so it remains a little treasure to be discovered over and over again, only in reading the book. 

I’ve just finished that chapter, and it inspired me to write this, as I wanted to linger in the world of Tom and Goldberry a little longer, before we set out for the barrow downs, and Bree, and what lies beyond.