I learned how to read novels by reading Tolkien.
My mother had a beautiful edition of The Hobbit, hard bound in a green case with gold leaf and gilt pages. There were lovely illustrations in the book, and maps drawn by the author himself.
I pulled it off the shelf when I was in the third grade and I read it. Then I read the Lord of the Rings, followed by the Silmarillion, his Unfinished Tales edited by his son Christopher, and then a biography of the man himself.
Before I began to read his other works, I began to re-read those books. I read them all, many times over: eight, nine, ten times.
I remember a sensation I had on my third time through the Silmarillion, I experienced a heightened sense of understanding that came to me because I had become a better reader. It wasn’t just that I was re-reading the same material, but my vocabulary had expanded and I was able to comprehend more of the material.
The picture was filling in and the world that Tolkien created was coming to life.
I added his smaller lesser known works to the corpus of material I consumed, when I was still in the seventh grade I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Beowulf. These works resonated with my other reading interests, such as the collected and various tales of King Arthur, they also put me in touch with the broader tradition of the Viking sagas.
Then I began to read books about Tolkien and Middle Earth written or compiled by other authors, The Tolkien Companion, the New Tolkien Companion, along with various encyclopedias, bestiaries and anthologies depicting the arms and armor of Middle Earth.
Reading Tolkien put the idea in my head that I wanted to be a writer. Reading his work over and over again gave me a deep appreciation for the care and the craft he put into the work of devising his fantasy world.
Through Tolkien I came to have an early appreciation for the power of myths, their malleability, and the potential that we have as creative people to fashion our own myths and communicate them to the broader world.
Through his writing Tolkien dramatized the basic conflicts he saw at work in our civilization, conflicts between the bucolic and pastoral life with the forces of industry that seemed to be destroying the planet, the disasters of modern warfare and the suffering they visit on the world.
The collected stories of Middle Earth are a form of social criticism that is more relevant than ever in the twenty-first century.
Given First – 2020.09.02