Just a quick “Happy Birthday” for JRR Tolkien! When I was in 3rd grade I decided I wanted to be a novelist. Then I read JRR Tolkien, and decided I wanted to be him. Then I found out that Tolkien studied Old English and Old Norse for a living, and I thought, well, that must be just as fun! And so here I am. But OK, I’d really like to find some more time for novelisting (novelizing?), I have to admit. In the meantime there is this blog, plus my published poems, which you can find listed under the “Who I am” section.
Actually, when I first read The Hobbit in 3rd or 4th grade (can’t remember exactly–but I’d read LOTR by 4th grade, I’m sure), I put it aside after the first chapter or two. I don’t think it was that I didn’t like it–I just get myself distracted by way too many other books that I was working through, and often the new, more challenging (yet more rewarding) books would be left till later. This has actually been the case for some of my favorite books over the years–The Hobbit, Stone and Flute, Winter’s Tale, and The Anvil of Ice, among others. But I eventually came back to Hobbit more “ready” for it, and it has been a favorite ever since.
Well, OK, we can still complain about a few things in Tolkien. I know there are a lot of apologists out there, but let’s face it, non-Western cultures don’t come off so well in his books (which are all about the exaltation of The West–but then again, let’s keep in mind this snarky reply to Nazi Germany), and women are either undervalued/invisible (it is telling that a champion world-builder ends up playing pretty much only with the masculine side of the “world”–but SOMEONE has to make the baby men, dwarves or otherwise!) or are exalted and put on a pedestal. Well, OK, let’s not pooh-pooh the latter too much. There are some quality heroines in his work, though they get shuffled to the side a bit in his novels. Silmarillion is a bit better in featuring heroic women, even if they aren’t necessarily valkyrie types (but at the moment I’m with those who see the “warrior woman” as more of a myth of Nordic antiquity from the Middle Ages, and valkyries as more cult figures than reality). We should also think of the woman-on-pedestal phenomenon in Tolkien’s work in the context of the early death of his mother (he thought of it as her martyrdom, if I remember correctly), his veneration of Mary (he was Catholic, and a bit disappointed when CS Lewis’ conversion led him to the Anglican church, not the Roman), and his very early infatuation with his wife-to-be (he was forbidden to see her until he grew up, and then swooped in and wooed her back after she’d been engaged to someone else–and of course, on their grave stones it says “Beren and Luthien”). Not that we should get too caught up imposing biography onto our reading of a novel (or complex of stories), but I think digging into this helps us approach Tolkien’s work both sympathetically and critically–an important skill, and one I try to teach in my courses. OK, off the soap box…
Anyway, Happy Birthday Tollers! I have to admit, I liked it better when I first discovered you and thought that I was the only one who knew about your genius… now I’ve got to share you with the world. Can’t even say I liked you before you were popular (darn those hippies and their out-hiptsering me!). Oh well. Glad you were here, and glad you left some neat stuff behind. Hope you’ve made some progress on your many-leafed tree and are enjoying the view of the mountains.