J.R.R. Tolkien: The Crazy and Magical Grandfather

I remember the thought I had when I spied my first glimpse of a picture of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Grandfather?

There he was, the professor, a chubby old man, white balding hair and a pipe in what looked like an old and battered brown suit. Yes, he looked like a grandfather to be honest, but… there was this spark in his eye. I couldn’t put my finger on why I thought this, but there was power in that spark.

It’s hard sometimes when you consider the sheer mass of creativity to link the image of the man to the creation. The creator of Treebeard, Gandalf, and Bilbo looks like he could be at your local grocery store, waiting in line by you at the Pharmacy, complaining about the rising prices of bananas, just an average senior citizen. Yes, I am doing him in an injustice by talking about his image in this fashion, but you would expect that someone with that incredible amount of imagination would have something that would, well, make him stand out in a crowd.

Shouldn’t someone like that sparkle?

One of my first great memories around reading came from J.R.R. Tolkien and my father. See, I was about seven when my dad decided to introduce me to the world of Middle-Earth.

We began with The Hobbit, of course, and we would take turns, each taking a page to read. It was almost a struggle for me, having to take over the reading, knowing that in my limited capability I would be slowing down the action. My father never complained, but I would kick myself through the entire experience… yet my reading skills grew and grew with each session, forced forward by Bilbo and his companions.

A few years later I had conquered The Lord of the Rings but that time I did it solo, not wanting to take the time to read it aloud, abandoning my patient father along the way. My strongest memory of that reading was the fall of Gandalf. I remember sitting up, startled, not believing what I had just read.

Gandalf can’t die! That can’t be. It’s freaking Gandalf!

That emotional hiccup of a reaction, that intake of startled breath, is one of my most pure memories around the strength of Tolkien’s writing.

An obsession began for me right then, and each summer from ten through eighteen I would return to the world of Middle Earth, reading the work annually under trees (like a hobbit would) or while laying on my parents’ couch.

I have also seen, listened, and read everything I could around this world (I had wrote about different adaptations of Tolkien already on the site here), and even to this day my iPod has four different versions of the audiobooks on it; each ready in a moment, on any day, to sweep me off to the third age.

Here is something I have not shared before about my love of Tolkien, but I wanted to be taken to Middle-Earth. No, I am serious. Physically taken to Middle-Earth; stolen away, leaving our little globe and all of my family behind in the dust. (I’m not sure if I would’ve even taken the time to wave goodbye if given the chance.)

I became convinced at an early age that if I closed my eyes just right before going to bed and concentrated really hard, I would enter that world. I even created a chant that I would use, usually being a variation on:

I am ready. I am ready. I am ready.

This wasn’t entirely crazy of me. I mean, wasn’t this one of the old standbys of all young adult literature? A normal kid pulled into another world for an adventure? And didn’t I have the markings of someone that would be a perfect hero for a tale like that- a nerdy, quiet child ready to find his place in the world, discover the hero within?  The only debate I had was which hobbit I wanted to become.

I definitely didn’t want it to be Sam or Frodo. Oh, I liked them, don’t get me wrong, but their adventure never meant as much to me as Merry and Pippin’s journeys. My first hope was around Merry, but soon Pippin took over. There was less injury around Pippin… of course, in saying that, it can be questioned exactly how much I wanted to really be a hobbit hero.

Of course, this is all academic now. I never was pulled into the work, no secret doors were discovered with passages into Bag End.

I’m still just merely Scott with a good portion of Tolkien still memorized in my little head.

I do have one bad story around my first reading of The Lord of the Rings and it caused the almost destruction of one of my friendship growing up. I’m still bitter about it to this day.

Frankly, my cousin Rob decided to be a jerk.  There is no other way to explain it, he was being a jerk. Jerk! And if I was still in communication with him, I would have no problem calling him that to his face. Here is why:

I had just begun reading The Return of the King and I was telling my older cousin about it. Now, I knew Rob had read the series before (he had probably shown me at least a  few times by then these new hardcover versions of it that he owned). Now we were walking about the neighborhood of my childhood and (I remember this clear as day) we were in the parking lot of the Baptist church near my house when I said, “I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Rob stopped, looked at me evilly and said, “Frodo destroys the ring but loses a finger.”

Jerk.

When I heard Peter Jackson was tackling The Lord of the Rings as a film trilogy I had no idea how it would work. A big story like that, so many characters! What would be cut (besides the obvious- sorry Tom Bombadil) and, more worrisome, what would be added. I imagined with fear the work being whittled down to just one action scene after another, losing the beauty of the world the tale inhabited.  Also, the fact that the first video we saw of the filming was of Arwen carrying Frodo on a horse (It was supposed to be Glorfindel! All true fans knew that!) didn’t help abolish my concerns… then everything slowly began to change for me; the ads began to look gorgeous and with each new commercial my interest began to grow and grow…

Seeing the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, on the silver screen was a revelation for me. I was so happy with it, I could almost weep. The cuts that were made (not one song about a troll and a bone, and how many remember the wondering fox… Yes, there is a wondering fox in the beginning of the book, check it out) as well as the additions put in all helped the story, didn’t hurt it. I almost had to fight the feeling that Peter Jackson had done the unthinkable:

Jackson had improved Tolkien.

I went back the next day in the morning and saw the film a second time. I would end up seeing it seven times in the theater, transforming from awed fan to film student studying under a new master.

The idea that Jackson is making The Hobbit as a trilogy makes me incredibly happy. I’m not sure if Tolkien would have been happy with the films (his family certainly has a mixed opinion), but as a fan I am more than pleased.

Of course, I do admit a part of me does wonder what The Beatles would have done with the books…  (No, I’m serious, they were very interested in making the books as a film, you can read more about it here).

The next year, 2002, I was going to be married on December 21. This is going to sound super geeky even in an editorial on Tolkien (you have been warned) but instead of going to a strip club or a bar, I convinced a bunch of my friends to see The Two Towers with me the morning of the wedding.

Yes, while my wife was out and about getting her makeup and hair done, I was visiting Middle-Earth, eating too much popcorn, and escaping reality.

Oh, and for those curious, I wore a tuxedo that day and had on shoes. No hairy feet… well, no more than normal.

When my wife, was pregnant with my daughter, I couldn’t wait…  Maybe it was the anticipation of The Hobbit being made into a film, or maybe it was simply that I needed nothing more than an excuse to return to my old literary haunts, but I read the book to her in utero, each evening; sharing five or so pages with her as her mother snored on the bed, facing towards me.

Someday, when she is older and I share the book with my daughter again a part of me dreams that it will be a little familiar to her. Like the feeling of deja vu, feeling not at all a foreigner on its literary soil, but actually arriving at a home she didn’t know she had.

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading the editorial, why not check out some of my published books? I had four novels published in the last few years,  the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!

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14 responses

  1. Yes, the wandering, wondering fox is an important part of the story! Thanks for sharing. I, too wandered off to Middle Earth once or twice a year when I was young. I’d have loved to visit in person.

    • I remember on NPR a few weeks ago a person said that the books were more dramatic than the films and had more character growth. I wondered exactly what books the reviewer read. Where was Aragorn’s character growth? The only people that grew were the Hobbits in the books (and possible Boromir), in the film everyone grew over the experience of the war of the rings… and the books have the fox…

  2. Reblogged this on The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard and commented:

    Tomorrow! Tomorrow! To say, I am looking forward to seeing The Hobbit tomorrow is to not do it justice. Tolkien and his writing was a major influence on my writing (I discuss this in the post here). Yes, I don’t write fantasy typically, but this is more soul-related, life direction. Okay, this may all sound dramatic, but it is so very, very true for me. So I will be there, the first showing on Friday, turning off my iphone (with its Hobbit case) off for three hours… the only question is do I wear my Middle Earth t-shirt?

  3. Pingback: Writing About Tolkien « The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

  4. I really enjoyed this article. I read the Hobbit in high school (there was this guy…), but I preferred the Belgariad by David Eddings (there was this OTHER guy..,).

    It wasn’t until my pre-teen son became an avid fan of the movies that I got into the story. From there he watched everything he could by Peter Jackson and I went along for the ride, instituting Movie Mondays, for our special mother/son time (I drew the line at “Dead Alive.” Not happening. His dad watched it with him instead).

    I wish you and your daughter many special reading dates (and Movie Mondays) together.

  5. Pingback: The Posts of an Anglophile | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

  6. Pingback: My Time Lost in Books… | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

  7. Ahh an Austen and Tolkien fan! How perfect. I remember the power of Tolkien’s words too, only mine was in the The Silmarillion when Melkor’s hands turn black from touching the Silmarils. My brother will be having kids soon and you can bet I’ll be there, ready to babysit with The Hobbit in hand.

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