Among all the books I have read in my life, perhaps none affected me in a way J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” did. Of course, there are books raising more significant problems, books which evoke more intense emotions, even books which are written better. I could name a lot: “Flowers for Algernon,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The Minds of Billy Milligan,” “On the Road,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and so on. Each of them left a scar in my mind, so to say; such scars you can look at and remember the whole story around each of them. Each of these books taught me something crucial, something I still hold dear or use as navigation points when sailing through the sea of life. However, only “The Lord of the Rings” managed to change me in many ways at once. In my teenage years, it was the most important book in the world.
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I remember when I first tried reading the series at the age of 11. I did not like it. A friend of mine recommended it to me, saying it was a “sequel of ‘The Hobbit,” which I had read before. I remember being completely unimpressed by “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The whole part about Bilbo’s birthday and Gandalf’s arrival to the Shire seemed to be out of place, for some reason. Perhaps I expected the epic journey to start right from the first page, but such a lengthy prologue discouraged me from reading further.
I returned to the book a year later, in 2001, I think, when the first movie by Peter Jackson came out. I did not watch it: as a radical teenager, I despised all the hype and fuss around the film. However, it must have affected me anyways, because I suddenly felt the urge to finish reading “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The movie posters promised such an exclusive experience that I thought: “Okay, the book cannot be worse than the movie. In fact, it must be better. I must give it a try.” So, I went to the bookstore and bought the first part of “The Lord of the Rings.”
Actually, no. The first time I came to the bookstore, there were no copies of the book left: everything was sold out. It took me two more attempts to finally lay my hands on the novel, so I already had two serious reasons to read through it: the fact that I spent my own pocket money on it, and that it was so difficult to buy. So, I braced myself against the “boring” prologue, and started reading.
I finished the book in a day. Never before was I absorbed by a story that much. To start with, the first chapters did not feel uninteresting anymore. On the contrary, I managed to catch that sinister vibe when Gandalf was warning Bilbo about the Ring. I understood that a peculiar trinket from “The Hobbit” was an artifact of great power which even Gandalf was afraid of. I read until the moment when the four hobbits got trapped in a dungeon with the undead, and realized that I was already in love with the novel. The cold dread of nazguls, the flaming valor of Aragorn, Gandalf’s calm power, and the hobbits’ readiness to persist no matter what touched me. I remember how amazed I was by the concept of Moria–a whole underground kingdom of dwarves, with large halls and mines going deep under ground, to the planet’s core, perhaps. I remembered the goblins’ domain from “The Hobbit,” but it felt so inferior compared to Moria. And when Gandalf fell into the Abyss together with Balrog, I was shocked. I cried, because I did not know this was not the end of him. Rather soon, I cried again because of Boromir’s death. And again, when I realized the Fellowship was broke.
The morning after I finished the book, I ran to the closest bookstore to buy “The Two Towers.” Needless to say, it was sold out, so I had to wait for about a week before I got myself a copy. The story was getting darker, with hobbits being kidnapped by the orcs, with Saruman having turned out to be a traitor, and with Frodo and Sam engaging the unpredictable and dangerous Gollum. I was relieved to know that Gandalf was alive, and I enjoyed the part with the ents. I loved how Tolkien depicted them: ancient, sentient trees remembering the birth of the world, a slow but unstoppable force of nature. When the ents appeared under Saruman’s tower crushing and destroying everything, I was in awe.
The third book gave me the same feelings. The only thing I sort of disliked about it was the part with Frodo and Sam following Gollum. When Frodo told Sam to go away, I felt angry: it looked like a betrayal to me. The further I read, the more it seemed to me that the true hero in this story was Sam, not Frodo. If not for him, Frodo would never had it. I know this is more about the importance of friendship rather than about whose contribution to victory was greater, but even today I cannot get rid of the feeling that Frodo was a secondary character. Moreover, he was not a hero: in the end, he succumbed to the Ring’s power, rejecting everything his friends stood for.
Naturally, after I was done with the books, I watched the movies. Although I knew many of Tolkien’s fans who did not like Peter Jackson’s screen version, I enjoyed every minute of it. Yes, he did not show some parts of the book. Yes, he shortened and simplified some sections. But overall, the movie was as epic as the book, and every actor portrayed his or her character well.
Later was “Silmarillion,” fan fiction–both reading and writing, video games, articles and research dedicated to “The Lord of the Rings.” Any other fantasy novel I read after it looked inferior and dull. Any other fictional world looked faded and boring. It felt like I found the source of all fantasy in the world, and there was no way I would turn away from it.
I made a whole lot of friends–boys and girls like me, fascinated with the world of Middle Earth. We wrote and exchanged fan-fiction stories. We researched and studied Elvish and Dwarven languages based on the information from “Silmarillion, its appendices, and appendices to “The Lord of the Rings.” We dramatized battles from the book, using self-made swords and armor. We played board games and D&D adaptations. We drew hundreds of pictures of elves, orcs, and dwarves. We formed and shared an outlook, a whole imaginary world based on the books we loved.
It feels nice and warm to remember about these things. I have lost contact with many of my friends a long time ago. People change, and gradually they all–and I as well–became too grown-up and serious to live in a world designed by someone else. But sometimes, I get this dreamy nostalgic mood as if there was a road calling me, a road full of adventures. And then I take the book or turn on the movie, and travel in time back to my adolescence, to Middle Earth. And it feels like home.
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