Friday, March 11, 2011

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

When I see people—old acquaintances, former friends, ex-teammates, high school classmates—I am always stricken by how much they have changed. Of course, they are still the same in so many ways: they are recognizable, their ways of speaking sounds exactly as they always did, their interests are at least similar to what they used to be. But I never notice those constants in the way I do the differences. An outgrowth of facial hair, a difference in height, a complete reversal of political beliefs. Or I just see the things that have certainly always been present, but I see now cast in a new light: just how long a bridge of a nose is, or how harshly comments are made.

Then inevitably I wonder the age-old question: Who has really done the changing? Is it me? Is that why everything about these people seems so strange?

When I reread The Lord of the Rings this winter, the pages felt more like long-removed friends than local buds. (I hadn’t read the books in four years—my longest stretch since the first time I read them in high school.) The story is perfect winter reading for me, for that is the season of comfort and familiarity. But part of what makes Tolkien such an admirable writer (and part of the very reason I’m one of the thousands, if not millions, of people who have read the books multiple times) is his ability to show his readers something new every time through the texts. Since last reading The Lord of the Rings, I’ve co-taught a class on Tolkien and assisted with the editing of a scholarly volume on teaching his works. I’ve had my own scholarship published, I’ve written more creatively than I had in all my prior years, and I’ve experienced life abroad. Not only have I undoubtedly changed, but my experience with Tolkien’s books has grown, too.

Perhaps for both those reasons, I discovered new facets during this reading. Never before had I paid so much attention to Tolkien’s intricate wording, particularly in his descriptions of natural scenes and features. He writes with an unceasing reverence for the earth that I had not before noticed, and thus never truly appreciated. Never had I read The Lord of the Rings while myself in the primary mindset of an author—always before I was a student, an academic, a fan, but this time I read Tolkien as a palate-cleanser of sorts while working on my own writing. I cannot read Tom Robbins or Kurt Vonnegut or Jonathan Safran-Foer or John Irving while I am writing, because inevitably I will emulate their styles. Yet I hold Tolkien the craftsman in higher esteem than each of them. Reading his words while writing my own motivated me and drove me ever onward—all without leaving his own literary taste in my brain. Rather, I felt the freshness of his passages, the crispness of his scenes, the richness of his writing flowing through my mind in a way that I could not imitate, and so I remain inspired even now by having experienced how a truly beautiful text feels, even after so long apart.

1 comment:

  1. This book is absolutely stunning, and it is without a doubt one of my favorite books that I own. The book has the Lord of the Rings put together as Tolkien originally meant for it to be. Its a timeless classic in the epic novels. I highly recommend that any person who enjoyed the series picks this book up. Its priced a little high, but if you collect the books at all it is well worth the price for what you get.