On the occasion of what would have been J.R.R. Tolkien’s 122nd birthday, sj invited us all to do a group read of The Hobbit (which you should totally do, if only to rid yourself of the taste of all the crap that PJ stuffed into the movies) and generously offered to open up the doors of Snobbery for people to share their thoughts on re-reading Tolkien. Here are mine.
It is easy to come up with a list of things that I love about re-reading Tolkien. The harder part is figuring out why I do it. I know that, when I return to Middle Earth, I
- enjoy the company of lifelong friends
- revel in the beauty of the world
- soak up the history and listen to the songs
- relive all of the thrills and each moment of anguish
As true as each of these is, none are why I keep going back. The reason, the One True Reason, is simply that I must. I have to return to Tolkien’s world in order to deal with mine.
Hey Cheffo, melodrama much?
It may sound that way and sometimes I do. The thing of it is, though, that even when things are humming along nicely, life has a way of piling up. What starts out as a bit of snow on the road eventually turns into a filthy crust of salty grunge so thick that you need a power washer to make things shiny again.
That’s why I continue to read Tolkien — to cleanse my mind and get things looking right. Sometimes you need to flush the system and the more life I get under my belt, the more I seem to need it.
A little more than 10 years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with Autism. Shortly thereafter, so was my younger son. For this parent, a future with Autism was incomprehensible, overwhelming and scary as hell. Autism (like Sauron) is only seen in the way that it manifests in the world. It was impossible for me to wrap my head around the scope of it and any attempts to get a handle on things were like grabbing at smoke.
In that moment, all notions of certainty and any expectations I may have had went right out the window, followed in short order by my sense of control and my hope. 10 years later, the reality isn’t nearly so overwhelming and most days are good ones. Still, life has a way of building up and it is easy for me to lose sight of the one thing that I know to be true:
The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. The quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.
– Elrond of Rivendell
To borrow terminology from A Writer’s Journey, that road (in life as in Tolkien) is populated with Gatekeepers, Tricksters and False Heralds (I’m looking at you, Jenny McCarthy) who confound, confuse and befuddle the weary traveler. Fortunately, my friends in Middle Earth are always there to remind me that:
- there are things in life that you must do yourself
- dealing with hardship requires patience
- when you feel most alone, you probably aren’t
- simply going on can be the most courageous of acts
- if you find yourself lacking courage, you can borrow some from your friends
When the weight of my world builds up and my mind gets clouded or dark, I sometimes say or do things that I regret. I hurt people — typically the people that I care most about. When I do, Gollum and Boromir are there to show me that forgiveness is a righteous choice, and that redemption is possible and can be breathtaking.
Upon my return from Middle Earth, I find myself a better man. I am once again able to carry hope in the absence of certainty. I understand that despair is merely a mistake and that joy can be found in the simplest things: good food, a good song or good company (not to mention a good book or a pipe stuffed with good weed).
It seems odd to escape into a fantasy in order to recognize reality, but the shit works and I am grateful.
Thanks, sj, for loving Tolkien and for letting me share.