Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason the better fantasy will it make.”
– Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
I was in the sixth grade when my Mother bought me my first copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I remember carrying the books up to the register, they were the biggest books that I had ever thought about reading. The font was small and dense and the books were thick. But it was rare for my Mother to buy me books on a whim, I couldn’t help but be excited.
My first introduction to The Lord of the Rings had come when the first film was released in theatres. Middle Earth was everywhere. Actor interviews on the television, Burger King had LOTR toys with their kids meals and the film’s trailer was playing as every other commercial. There was no way that I would be going to see it. It looked scary.1 But at the same time, I just couldn’t look away. I wanted to know the story. What was this Ring of Power and why couldn’t they just destroy it with an axe? That was how I found myself clutching four large books unknowingly making one of the largest commitments of my life. LOTR got me through some of the most difficult parts of my childhood and teenage years. Middle Earth was so detailed that it felt like a second home. There was always more to learn, a different family tree to analyze and another chunk of history to read.2 My friends and I used to challenge one another with obscure trivia. Everyone else was in love with Harry Potter but my heart belonged to Aragorn and Éomer.3 I scoured the internet for information, for pictures and for fanfiction. I even wrotesome horrible fanfiction of my own.
I knew of Tolkien’s scholarly life throughout high school, but was never made fully aware of it until I reached University. I was lucky enough to take a Tolkien and Fantasy class, where we not only looked at Lord of the Rings, but how it defined and changed the fantasy genre. Tolkien was a game-changer. He didn’t create the genre of High Fantasy, but many of the rules and tropes that are common place now were put in place by him.
Tolkien was a defender of fantasy and fairy stories, to him they weren’t just for children. If you’re interested in reading his essays on the topic I suggest you start out with On Fairy-Stories. It serves as a good introduction to most fantasy-literary theory.
Tolkien and Middle Earth made me realize that stories are important. They’re not just entertainment, they can also serve a higher purpose. They’re not only a part of the storyteller but they’re a part of humanity. Through stories we explain ourselves, we give meaning to the world around us.
Above all, Tolkien made me realize that above all I wanted to tell stories. He created a world that had become so special to so many different people. Whether their introduction was through his text or the countless adaptations that have spawned from it, Tolkien has given us something truly beautiful. He’s given us hope, whether that be the smallest creature overcoming the greatest evil, or a company of dwarves off to reclaim their homeland from a dragon. He’s created a completely different world, a world so entrenched in our own that you can believe that one day it might have existed.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DR. TOLKIEN AND THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING.
”Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
– Tolkien Mythopoeia
RECOMMENDED READING LIST:
1. I could barely get through the Wolf Scene in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and that was animated.↩
2. I never got as far as learning how to speak elvish. I looked into it. I learned a few phrases but never had the attention span or time to learn how to speak it fluently]↩
3. I also really really despised Boromir. He never seemed worthy enough to be a member of the Fellowship. When I was older and had a greater appreciation for the source materials that Tolkien was working from I understood his purpose in the text. Boromir is supposed to be us, easily corrupted by power and greed. We may be able to fall but salvation could always be achieved. That being said. I’ve spent over a decade in an argument that Aragorn is better than Boromir so shhhh.↩