Tolkien is the reason I write. I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was 13/14. My mum got me the set of books with The Hobbit for Christmas. Because it was so well wrapped and an odd size, I couldn’t figure out what the gift was. It was heavy and felt completely solid. The wrapping paper was shiny forest green, plain; I think she’d run out of Christmas wrapping paper. That just made it all the more mysterious. I left that present until last and when I finally opened it I couldn’t have been more thrilled. A box set of books! I had absolutely no idea what a hobbit was and what The Lord of the Rings was about but I started to read them straight away.
I have vague recollections of the Ralph Bakshi film made in 1978 but I was too young to follow the story so I didn’t make any connections between that and the books I now owned until I met Gollum in The Two Towers. Then it clicked (for some reason his appearance in The Hobbit didn’t register). Of course once I’d finished the books I wanted to watch the film again and when I did I was a little disappointed. Looking back it was actually pretty good considering when it was made and the ambitiousness of the project but all I noticed at the time was that the hobbits all had seventies hair cuts. That just ruined the experience.
I read The Hobbit and thought it was a nice little story. I especially liked Smaug and Beorn. Then I read The Lord of the Rings, which is much more grown up, and I was lost in Middle Earth. I remember staying up late after I should have been asleep, reading the last few chapters. I shed a few tears at the end, devoured the Appendices and then immediately read the whole thing again. I didn’t want it to end, I felt like the characters were friends. In hindsight I think it was the escapism I craved because life wasn’t all fun and games in our household.
This also spurred me to start creating my own stories, something I liked to do anyway, but now I realised just how far you could go with creating a new world. Everything I wrote for the next few years was a poor imitation of Tolkien’s work and I cringe when I think back but at the time I just needed to get lost in a different fantasy world.
I still get lost in fantasy worlds but now it’s because I want to. I read The Lord of the Rings every couple of years, the same copy I got that Christmas. The books don’t all fit in the box any more and the spines are cracked but I will never ever throw them away. It’s the only story that I know so well that I can read over and over again, even though I know exactly what’s coming. It’s just magical.