Back to Middle Earth

I finished re-reading The Lord of the Rings last weekend, and I was glad I read it again. I feel like I’ve reclaimed something I’d lost.

I first read this book (books? On this go, I had an e-book that had all three books in one volume, treated as one book, but the previous times I read three separate books. And I’m aware that there are actually two “books” in each volume) in the fall of my sixth-grade year. I discovered the Narnia books at around the same time, but I don’t recall which came first. I know I didn’t read the entire Narnia series during that fall because I was still reading those books early the next year, but I did read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy during that fall.

It was during this reading of both series that the switch that turned me into a fantasy fan was well and truly flipped. I’m still not sure why it hit then and not a couple of years earlier when I first read The Hobbit. The Star Wars obsession around the time of The Hobbit probably did have a lot to do with it because I wanted spaceships and robots instead of hobbits and wizards. I still liked science fiction in sixth grade, but the sharpest edges of the obsession might have been blunted. It might have been the setting, as we’d moved to Germany then, and we spent a lot of time walking through dense forests like those described in The Lord of the Rings, and we spent weekends visiting castles. That made fantasy worlds seem more real, less abstract. It was easy to visualize these kinds of places because I’d actually been there. I know I started reading the Narnia books because my mom gave me a copy of The Silver Chair to keep me occupied when I had to meet her at her office after school and wait until she got off work before we could go do something. I don’t remember why I picked up The Lord of the Rings, though I do have a vivid mental image of standing in front of that shelf in the school library and looking at those books. My school was a combination of upper elementary and junior high in the same building (grades 4-8), so the library skewed a bit older than the usual elementary library. I don’t remember if I picked them up because I wanted more fantasy after The Silver Chair or if I remembered reading The Hobbit and was curious about the other books (I recall there being some of that, but I don’t know if that was the main trigger).

At any rate, I fell madly in love with these books. I was totally sucked in and tore through them. I wanted to crawl into the books and live in that place — maybe not during most of the events of the story, as that would have been scary — but I wanted to be in the Shire, to hang out with the elves in Rivendell and Lorien, to meet the Ents in Fangorn. I tore through the books furiously, and I was so excited when the animated movie came to one of the base theaters not long after I finished reading the series — and then was horribly disappointed when it cut off midway through the story (I know there was another animated film that continued the story that came out later, but I’ve never seen that one). I think if I’d been in a place where there were other fantasy fans and related activities I could have participated in, I might have really gone big — stuff like conventions, role-playing games, costuming, etc. But we didn’t, so I had to do all that stuff in my head.

I’m surprised that I didn’t reread the books during my lonely teen years, though I was reading a lot of fantasy at that time. I didn’t pick them up again until I was in college, when they were discussed in a class I was taking on “parageography” (the geography of imaginary worlds — worldbuilding). They weren’t required reading, but the professor mentioned enough things that I didn’t recall that I decided to reread them. And it was a total slog. The magic was gone. I barely got through the whole thing. That memory held me back from doing another reread all this time, even when I was considering it soon after the movies came out.

But I was almost as delighted this time around as I was that first time. It perhaps wasn’t quite as fresh, since I’m not 11, I’ve read a lot of fantasy since then, and I’ve written a lot since then, but it was still magical. The language was easier than I remembered, especially earlier in the book. It does go into King James mode in parts later, but it still read quickly and easily. I wanted to crawl into the books and visit those places the way I did in that first read. I want to go to a woodland elf dinner party under the trees, with lanterns hanging in the branches or sit by the fire in a cozy hobbit hole. If I had the fabric handy, I’d probably be making an elf lady costume for myself (though, physically, I’d probably make a better hobbit, since I’m short and have curly brown hair, but I don’t like being barefoot). One nice thing about being an adult is that if you want to do crazy things because you love a book, you just can.

I’m so glad I reread the books because I feel like I got some of the magic back. It was fun to visit that world again, and finishing the read was like coming home from a vacation, where it’s good to be home (and to read something else after weeks), but it’s also sad to leave that other, more special place. I don’t know if I’ll do yet another reread, but I have the book on my tablet, so I can dip into the parts I particularly enjoy.

Since this is already epic, I’ll have to get into my more specific thoughts on the series later.

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