I first heard about a set of books called The Lord of the Rings when I was thirteen years old. One of my best friends at school was crazy about them and would talk about that made up world and all the fantastic creatures that inhabited it for hours and hours. Trying to seem interested in whatever it was that rocked her world, I borrowed The Hobbit from her – she suggested that this might make a good introduction to Tolkien’s stories – and never made it past the first chapter.
I returned it to her after a month or so and probably told her that I just couldn’t find anything interesting in those imaginary lands filled with elves and lesser known creatures. Besides, it was all just weird with those made up languages and histories. Now, that’s a very ironic remark considering that at the time I was busy inventing my own language with my other best friend to round up our very own imaginary world filled with monsters and prophetesses. But again, I was only thirteen years old at the time and life is full of contradictions at such a tender age.
I think I should say now that I’m talking about Spain in the late nineties, early noughties, so Tolkien, besides being a foreign writer was a writer of fantasy and fantasy (or any other subgenre of speculative fiction for that matter) have never played a major role in Spanish-speaking literatures. I think that those factors definitely contributed to shape the image of Tolkien as a writer of nerdy stuff for me and many people outside England. Nevertheless, I might be totally wrong in here even though I have the feeling that Tolkien have also been diminished as a writer of lesser literature in the English-speaking countries as well because he did fantasy. I’d love to read your opinions on this.
It wasn’t until many years later that I tried to read The Hobbit again and this time I succeeded. And loved it. It became one of my favourite books and I knew that I was ready to finally tackle Tolkien’s masterpiece: The Lord of the Rings. Anyway, life got somehow in between and reading wasn’t a priority for quite some time and I didn’t start reading The Fellowship of the Ring until this year.
Obviously, by now, I have seen (many times, I should add) Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. I didn’t love them straightaway but I do love them now and, surely, they helped me to appreciate the Tolkien universe. It is much easier to find out about such a complex universe visually. But it might be even more rewarding to grasp its subtleties through the original texts. I still have many books and stories left to read but I have already been taken in by Tolkien’s prose and verse; the heroic histories and the mundane stories.
One of the first things that surprised me when I read The Hobbit was the many poems and songs intertwined with the story. The first time I found them tedious but the next time I thought them delightful. Perhaps this has to do with the translation – I am sure that all those riddles and poems are difficult to translate and it is nearly impossible for them to sound as good in Spanish as they do in English – or perhaps I have simply grown to better appreciate literature.
I read The Hobbit again last year as a prelude to The Lord of the Rings, which I was planning to read this year. Between them I read Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters and I was once again surprised by his creativity and his drawing skills. Also, this book introduced me to his personality and family life and I became even more of a fan of Tolkien’s persona. What a thoughtful, loving father he must have been to be gifting his children with letters from the North Pole for so many years.
Besides writing, Tolkien also had a very successful academic career and became a renown expert in Anglo-Saxon literature and Old and Middle English. I have long been interested in those subjects as well and probably because of that I find Tolkien’s life and works even more fascinating. In a way, I considered that he had the career I would have loved to have, though I didn’t know that at thirteen. I didn’t know it many years later either.
When I first started dating my boyfriend, one of the first silly questions we asked each other was whether we were an Oxford or Cambridge person. ‘Cambridge,’ said I. ‘Not that I am particularly inclined to any of them BUT in Cambridge you can do a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Old English, Old Norse and Anglo Saxon.’ He probably thought I was the nerdiest person he had ever met but still he stuck with me. And we have watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy together many times ever since.
I still have much to learn about Tolkien, about his books and his academic career. I am nearly done with The Fellowship of the Ring now and I have enjoyed every page of it. I sometimes regret having been so prejudiced towards Tolkien when I was a teen and having ignored his books for so long. But better late than never and I am loving every step into this fantastic journey.