Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy 124th Birthday, Professor Tolkien!

source for author photo; edited by author of this article
Today, January 3rd, is the 124th anniversary of J. R.R. Tolkien's birth. In honor of this date, I decided to do something rather hobbit-like indeed: gather around a (albeit virtual) table and share stories. In this case, stories of how we were introduced to Tolkien's work and the impact these novels and their offspring have had on our lives. To think, all of this started with a single line written on the back of a test he was grading...

Anna Gensimore
When I was very young, probably around 6 or 7, my father started reading The Hobbit to me at bedtime. But before that, he had to make sure that I knew the history of the world the story came from and how it fit into the bigger story as told in The Lord of the Rings. As you can see, I became a part of this fandom honestly. At this point, I decided that I needed to read The Hobbit by myself and succeeded. At that time, The Lord of the Rings  seemed a bit daunting, so I moved on to read The Chronicles of Narnia. I now realize that my father was trying to plant the seeds not only out of his  love for the series but also because he knew that the movies were going to be coming out soon (This probably took place in 2000-01 for reference) and was using it as a litmus test to gauge my readiness for them. I still remember him reading the paperbacks that he's had since he was young. 

I remember watching Fellowship of the Ring a few years later and being absolutely white knuckle terrified of the Orcs and Gollum. When I was in 5th grade, Dad figured that he'd give taking me to see the movies another try as Return of the King was in theaters. I absolutely loved it! I decided to read the books at that time, and in a bargain to get me to clean my room, my mother had me get the books on CD so I could "read" while I cleaned. I, of course, would be found curled up in front of my CD player listening intently to the story. When we  finally (due to my incessant pleading) got the Extended Editions of the trilogy,  I would spend my weekends watching them or acting out my own adventures in Middle-earth with my friends. 

For a time, my feverish interest ebbed as I discovered other series and became involved in the typical flurry of activities in middle and high school. Then came my freshman year of college. I found out that The Hobbit was going to be brought to film as a trilogy, and I was absolutely over the moon. The next December, I was in tears as I watched the beginning of An Unexpected Journey; I felt as if I was coming home. This refreshed interest lead to me reading the books multiple times, and going to the midnight premieres became something that my Dad and I just automatically did as they came out around his birthday and usually the Thursday ending my finals week. Senior year, I even petitioned a favorite teacher to teach a small section of a class featuring the works of not only Tolkien but also C.S. Lewis. I learned even more about Tolkien and his influences diving into his love of language and Anglo-Saxon culture fascinated me. I was captivated by The Silmarillion and inspired to continue on my own journey as a writer. 

My interest in Tolkien's work has had so many wonderful things that have come with it. I have made some wonderful friends through our mutual interest, and it's given me a shared point of reference with my father while helping us build a dynamic of friendship as I adventure into adulthood. Tolkien's works have further piqued my interest in theology, languages, and history overall while encouraging me to seek out my own adventure courageously. 
Hobbit Day with my friend,  Jaime, and her wonderful Lembas bread, a doodle featuring our fictional hobbit-punk band Second Breakfast, and my cap from college graduation which features the second line of Bilbo's walking song as well as the door to Bag End. 
Cliff G. (Anna G's Dad)
I was introduced to LOTR in my teen years. I guess it was a sort of a diversion, a mental vacation of sorts but with the twist of moral overtones between good and evil. I damaged my daughter (lol) at a fairly young age by introducing her to the series, and it's been a point of communication for us. Like I said, not much but a whole bunch at the same time.

The Bilbo to my Frodo. 
Anna Catherine
While I've never read any of the books (besides The Hobbit which was read aloud to me), Lord of the Rings has had a big part in my life. After I moved away from my childhood home when I was five, we got the trilogy movie set. My dad would watch The Fellowship of the Ring every single night as he went to sleep. I always loved to sneak into the living room past my bedtime to watch part of the film. My little brother and I would watch battle scenes and act them out with his plastic swords. When I got a little older, my dad read The Hobbit aloud to my brother and me. When The Hobbit films came out, my dad took me and my brother to see every single one in theaters. J.R.R. Tolkien's work brings back fond memories of my childhood.

Jaime Heller
The first time I remember being introduced to Tolkien was in a car ride during one of the summer, family vacations. My brother was reading The Hobbit, and he challenged me to read it within a year’s time. I never did finish it that year. But I wanted to. I think I watched the movies first, and I fell in love with this firmly-established world. I loved the concept of hobbits, wishing I wouldn’t grow so fast so I could run around my house barefoot pretending to be one. I loved the friends I made while watching it, feeling like one of the four hobbits but also wanting to be a rider of Rohan or an elf. 

It wasn’t until middle school and high school that I finally read the books. I remember a friend saying Tolkien's story and world-building were excellent, but overall, his writing was terrible to read. I never felt that way. I lavished in his books, soaking up every detail and his story craft. I thought his extra details brought the world to life and his narrative set it apart from other fantasy stories. I soon became a Grade-A Tolkien enthusiast. 

In college, I took a class on Tolkien and Lewis, which led me to read through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings once more as well as finally read The Silmarillion. Where my brother thought The Silmarillion was difficult to understand, I once more found it easy to understand, and I relished in the significant world-building details Tolkien took to write these stories. I wrote a research paper about Elvish, finding he built the world of Arda to supplement his language rather than creating the language for his world. His work has also connected to me to many of my current friends. This shared mutual love has brought me strong, last friendships much like the bond between the four hobbits or the three hunters or the thirteen dwarves and Bilbo. 

I haven’t read all of his books or translated works. I might not know as much about Middle-earth as someone else, but Tolkien’s work has transformed my life. His belief about fairy stories bringing hope to our world has become the focus of why I write fantasy. His world of Arda, of Middle-earth, has made me fall in love with stories. While Narnia helped shape my childhood love for fantasy, Middle-earth has grounded that love into my adult life. 

Jameson C. Smith
Apparently when I was a little kid, I watched the animated version of The Hobbit all the time. While I don’t remember this clearly, I do remember the first time I watched the live-action LOTR films. I was nine years old and my aunt had let us borrow her copy of The Fellowship of the Ring on VHS. I was hooked from the start. The following two Decembers found my family and me seated in crowded movie theaters waiting for the next installments. Middle-earth was the first fictional world I can remember feeling sad about leaving.

I’d tried reading the books for years but always managed to lose my place and have to start over. I think I was 13 the first time I finally read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in their entirety. The books brought the world to life in details I hadn’t even thought of before, which only made me enjoy the time spent in Middle-earth even more. I later went on to read some of Tolkien’s other Middle-earth works, including some of the histories, The Silmarillion, and The Children of Hurin

Tolkien’s work was my first major fandom and has played a huge role in my life. It’s one of the first large-scale stories I felt invested in. It’s a story I don’t think I’ll ever tire of, to be honest. While it’s full of the fantastic, it also brings up things relative to real life—the importance of hope, the struggle between wrong and right, and the longing for adventure, to name a few—and I think that is one of the reasons Tolkien’s work remains so popular and beloved after all these years.

Not my shelf, this one is much more organized! source

Kate M. 
My introduction to Tolkien started when I was probably in first or second grade. I used to go over to a good friend's house often, and she would have us play with her Lord of the Rings action figures. Her birthday parties always meant that we would go watch the premieres of the movies in theaters. But it was some time before I actually got involved with Tolkien's actual work. In high school, I started getting reintroduced to Peter Jackson's incredible work because of my ex-boyfriend. His family were very interested in his works, and that started to rub off on me. It was then that I bought my first copy of The Hobbit and my first copies of The Lord of the Rings

I read each one cover to cover. I even started playing Lord of the Rings Online and began to immerse myself in another exploration of Tolkien's work. And I lost myself. I started digging into whatever lore I could find, learning anything and everything I could about the original works. A few years later, the first trailers and images and blog videos came out for An Unexpected Journey. And I was absolutely smitten with it. I now own 51 books consisting of either multiple copies of the works themselves or books on Tolkien and Middle-earth.

In my eyes, Tolkien was and still is the father of fantasy. Yet, he was so much more than that: he was a true scholar with a knowledge of complex languages such as Finnish and Welsh, he understood myth and creation, and the importance of history, all of which influenced the development of his work. I lost myself completely in Middle-earth, and I have yet to find my way out. 

Sky Destrian

I don't remember a time in my life that didn't have Tolkien in it. My dad read The Hobbit to me when I was very young. I, then, waited excitedly for when I would be old enough to watch Lord of the Rings. My dad had one stipulation: I had to read the books first. This was really good, since I would never have read them otherwise. They give a depth to the movies that really helps explain what's going on behind the scenes--not to mention you get to meet Tom Bombadil! When we were old enough, my brother and I read them at the same time and even raced each other to read the end of Return of the King. I still remember how hard I cried during the Grey Havens scene. 

Tolkien has been a huge part of my life. I fell in love with Aragorn, and I spent much of my teenage years wishing I could live in Middle-earth (and Narnia, but that's a different story--literally). I spent my time attempting to learn Elvish (and sometimes speaking it!). I loved Sam, and my good friend and I called each other "Sam" and "Pippin" for a long time. I've been encouraged and inspired by Gandalf's wisdom, and I'm still convinced I'm a hobbit in disguise. I've been changed by my time spent in Middle-earth, and I'm so grateful for Tolkien and his works. They are so deep, fun, and inspiring, and they are truly a work of art. Thank you, Tolkien, for showing me an entire world, helping me realize that life is a journey, and reminding me that the road goes ever on and and on.

source of screencap;edited by the author of this article

How has Tolkien influenced your life? Share with us in the comments below!


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