Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Maker of Middle Earth

"I am, in fact, a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe and like good plain food (unrefrigerated) but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humor (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much."

J.R.R. Tolkien

When J.R.R. Tolkien died 40 years ago tomorrow, I had not yet read "The Hobbit" or the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

"The Hobbit" might have been about my speed at that time in my life. The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, though, definitely would have been beyond my years.

I read those books later when I was in high school. And I learned what all the cool kids had learned long before. I'd seen those kids carrying around their copies of whichever volumes of "Lord of the Rings" they happened to be reading at the time like emblems of some kind of exclusive club, a club to which I did not belong until later.

By then, though, they had moved on to other things.

When I finally joined that club, I was filled with admiration for the things Tolkien wrote. To put things in perspective, I had been doing a lot of writing by that time in my life, and I felt a great appreciation for well–written pieces, be they articles or books. Still do.

But on this day in 1973, I'm not sure I even knew who Tolkien was.

Consequently, I often feel as if I missed out on something special that everyone else got. Not permanently, of course. I finally got it, but I didn't get to experience it along with everyone else in my peer group. I felt out of step, somehow.

That was really kind of the story of my life when I was growing up. My family lived in the country, and there were many times when I felt isolated from my friends in town. When the school day ended, I got on the school bus and it took me home. A few kids my age lived in the general vicinity of my house, but most of my friends lived in town, and it always seemed to me that they experienced things as a group before I experienced them.

Tolkien was like everything else.

I was really isolated from my friends when Tolkien died. My father was a college professor, and he was on a four–month sabbatical in another state (with my mother, my brother and me). But, at that time, I doubt that many (if any) of my friends had read Tolkien yet.

Now that I think of it, I don't recall seeing any of my friends with their copies of volumes of the "Rings" trilogy until years later.

When I finally read "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, I kept thinking it would make a wonderful movie. As it turned out, it inspired three great movies.

But I also kept thinking that it wouldn't be possible technically to put Tolkien's vision on film. And that was true — at that time.

But 30 years after Tolkien's death, the film trilogy based on his books was being honored in every possible way.

I've often wondered what Tolkien would have thought of that.

Projected moving pictures made their debut when he was small, and the medium was evolving through most of his adult life, which was largely devoted to writing, either doing it or teaching it. My guess is he gave little thought to movies — and probably less to whether anything he wrote would be made into one.

There are times when I think that Tolkien, with his knack for story telling, must have mused about the possibility that his works would be preserved on film — even if filmmaking was primitive at that time.

But then I think that his devotion to the fantasy world that he had created — as well as his scholarly interest in language — would not permit him to tolerate anything less than perfection in its film representation. And filmmaking was decidedly imperfect during his lifetime.

Of course, that's just an educated guess — and, perhaps, some wishful thinking.

As I say, he probably never gave it a thought.