I probably first read The Hobbit when I was about nine years old. And then I immediately read it again a couple more times. Thinking on it now, I really don’t know that I have read it since then though, but I do know the story by heart and its very special to me. By the time I was ten or eleven I had collected and read The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarilion, and The Unfinished Tales. At that time I think the last two books listed were beyond me, but The Lord of the Rings… I read that over and over again. Back then me and my family were living in Taiwan, and there was this book store up the street that had these beautifully bound hardcover copies (same dust-jacket as the one pictured above) with a giant map in the back that I could unfold and pour over. We lived in the heart of Taipei by the Chiang Kai-shek memorial. Even though that was a pretty public monument and park, there was this secluded spot with a small waterfall I’d climb up to. I’d go up there and read about Ents, Hobbits, and Elves. Good times!
Tolkien has been a great companion in my life. Even though I may go for many years not reading anything he has written, its inevitable that eventually I’ll pick up and read one of his stories again and thoroughly enjoy myself. I think it was last winter that I picked up Morgoth’s Ring and read that for the first time. It’s really good! These days, The Silmarilion is far and away my favorite work though. The mythology in there is mind boggling, and his creation story is definitely one of the best.
Tolkien was a very religious person, and it shows in his writing. Even though I am not religious and I don’t really believe in a personified supreme-power (its hard to explain what I believe. Some sort of animism I suppose), there is one thing that always came through in his work, and it is also something I agree with… Tolkien believed that you can experience God directly in his handwork. God (or Iluvatar in Tolkien mythology) moves through Nature, and by spending time with Nature you can come to know and understand the mind of God. And it is our creativity and imagination that allows us to participate directly with God and Nature.
The quote below, taken from a conversation between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, is really the point of this post. I wanted the quote to appear here on ArtDuh!
You call a tree a tree, [Tolkien said to C.S. Lewis], and you think nothing more of the word. But it was not a ‘tree’ until someone gave it that name. You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.
We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil….
You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case, he said, I begin to understand.