Tolkien, J.R.R.

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For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

Up until 8th grade, I had been nose-deep in Shakespeare, Greek and Roman mythology (although I didn’t read The Odyssey, or The Aenid until college), and boat loads of science fiction.  I still read as many books about horses as I could, although my reading list began to drift into more technical tomes about riding, taking care of horses, and breed histories.

And then I was introduced to The Hobbit, our assigned reading for the semester.

I was immediately captivated by this language that felt so familiar to me, and yet had taken me so far away.  This was the language of my Saxon forebears, the folk tales and legends of the Cotswold hills, the musical lilt of Cymru’s tongue.

I won’t pretend to be a Tolkien scholar in any manner, but I had read that the tales of Middle Earth were a kind of conjecture on Tolkien’s part of what Saxon mythology might have looked like, had it survived the cultural purge after the Norman conquest. The romantic in me, the part of me that believes any tragedy can be redeemed with time and love enough, likes this explanation a great deal.  I almost don’t care about its veracity.

After reading The Hobbit, I went in search of anything with Tolkien’s name on it.  By the end of the school year, I was well into The Lord of the Rings.  It was because of Tolkien that I found C.S. Lewis, Narnia, and Till We Have Faces, which lead me to The Odyssey.

 

B is for Books

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It seems that I’m becoming more comfortable with embracing challenges these days. With that in mind, I’m embracing the A-to-Z Blogging challenge, by writing about the things that I most closely associate with being alive, when I show up and engage with life as fully as possible.

And with that, I give you:

BOOKS

I am an only child and I grew up in the Air Force. Is it any wonder that my best companions were books? Books helped me pass the time while my father completed all the paperwork (in triplicate, no less) needed to get us settled. My love affair with books has never waned. I could run through a list of my favourite books and authors, but somehow that feels like cheating.

Books did more than take my mind off the tedium of military bureaucracy. The Narnia tales taught me there was much more to this world than what my five senses could take in. Sometimes the wardrobe was much much larger on the inside than ever it looked on the outside. I sought Aslan in every farmyard cat that crossed my path. When a school friend gave me a piece of a tree that bore the evidence of an industrious beaver, I wondered if it were acquainted with Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy? Without even understanding who Aslan or the Emperor across the Sea really were, I longed to find them. Much of my childhood play was an earnest effort to find my own wardrobe entrance to Narnia.

Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology, Beowulf, all told of histories far older and, in some ways, truer than the dates, names, and facts taught in my history books. I still hunger for the folk tales of my mother’s homeland. I chase down the local legends and the regional myths of the Cotswold hills. Where the history of Gloucestershire and legend intersect, that’s where my heart begins to race just a little more. That’s the way it has always been for me. Where myth and legend and history begin to merge, that’s where magic happens. That’s where everything is possible and nothing is unlikely. It’s the intersection of madness and perfect clarity and if I could pitch my tent anywhere in the world, it would be smack dab in the middle of that nexus.

And, of course, how could I forget A Wrinkle in Time? My first exposure to science fiction, my first identification with a character that seemed so much like me, another exposure to something “larger” than the world I could see and taste, and smell and touch. Oh, how I could go on and on about this book alone!

But the magic did not end with my childhood. I read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces in college only to discover that we are not as different as we would like to believe. That even in our stories, our mythology and legend, we are more alike than we are unlike. In a similar vein, and a few years later, I read Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves and decided that Campbell had not gone far enough in his studies. He had forgotten about the women.  At the risk of sounding like a traitor to my gender, I had never before appreciated the inherent strength of womanhood but I began to grow into it and to value the wisdom, dignity and power of sisterhood.

I think I could write an entire A-to-Z blog just on the books that have enriched my life. If ever I want to consult the road map that shows me how I got here and where I hope to go in the future, all I have to do is look at my own bookshelves. The path is there. Word by word. Page by page. Each having left its mark in heart and mind and soul. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.