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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Happy [Belated] Birthday, Tolkien!

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet

"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Happy [Belated] Birthday, Tolkien!

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art not war
I am a day late on my toast because, as circumstance would have it, I was busy at work yesterday and then busy in my free time finishing up the SWG newsletter. While evidence of my membership in the "deplorable cult" would likely not please Tolkien were he alive to know my reasons for being late, I wish him a happy belated birthday nonetheless, complete with a toast with my travel tea mug!


I came to Tolkien via the movies, having only, by that point, read The Hobbit as part of a fifth-grade "academically talented" reading class. It was a school book, so it was to be read, not enjoyed, even though it stuck with me. In sixth-grade, we read FotR, but I only made it through Chapter One. It was a school book, so I was disinclined to see anything entertaining about it. I declared my enmity to Tolkien's books after.

Little did I know! I saw the FotR movie in a fit of acknowledged weakness: I was a serious literary writer at the time, working on a writing minor and holding my first editor's post, so liking Tolkien was definitely off-limits, but Bobby wanted to see the movie, so I went along with secret glee because it looked interesting to me too. And that was the beginning of the end for me. Like Bilbo walking out his door, I'd taken that first perilous step, and my life was about to change.

On the surface, of course, Tolkien has given me a hobby I enjoy and the SWG and friends throughout the world that I would not have made otherwise. Reading Tolkien didn't make me a writer--I've always been a writer--but involvement in the Tolkien fan community has given meaning to my life as a writer, which is not something I think many writers can say they have. The writing world I aspired to in my literary days was a bleak one of scrambling to get published in journals that might be read by a dozen people, of foisting stories on editors and readers who, more often than not, read them out of a sense of obligation or politeness. It was a lonely world: the iconic writer hunched over a typewriter alone. At least, that's how I perceived it. It made me stop writing for almost two years.

Instead, I'm part of a community where we write for love of it and read for love of it. I've been lucky to manage a site that serves as a platform for others to find and share their voices. Every now and then, a comment surfaces about how we waste our time because we can't publish or make money on our work, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Even my original fiction these days is written for love of it, not to add another publication to my CV.

Even deeper than that, belonging to this community has made me stop pushing my literary and creative interests to the bottom of the pile out of the misguided belief that these were mere indulgences. Instead, I've gone back to school and become an English teacher and hopefully impart some measure of knowledge or inspiration on my students that might help them withstand the difficult world they face after graduation.

All of this because I indulged my baser literary instincts and went to see a movie that led me to books that I still haven't been able to put down!

So, yes, I toast you Tolkien. In the big picture, you resurrected a lost world and created a new genre, but for me, you will always be the one who brushed the brambles from a path I likely never would have walked otherwise. Happy birthday, and thank you.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • I really appreciate your remarks. I have written and edited my entire adult life for a living and endured some fairly rigorous training in literature as a student, but never would have tried fiction without Tolkien.

    I had never heard of fan fiction, although I was a decades-long Tolkien geek, until after the movies. My friend Gandalf's Apprentice told me she was writing Tolkien fan fiction--OMG! I was lost! I read a mountain of the good, the bad, and the ugly over the next three months and was ready to write the epic Tolkien novel from my heretic's POV. (I still am! Hope springs eternal!)

    I always assumed you had been reading Tolkien from childhood. I forced it down my kids' throats. They took it nicely and share my love. The PJ movies were an annual family event for us, as were the CDs if the extended versions when they came out. Alex is the third generation, starting with his mama reading him The Hobbit and now seeing The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey he calls it in a very self-important voice. So far he has only seen The Fellowship of the Ring of the LotR movies.

    (I even shared an intense love of Tolkien with both of my ex-husbands--it was probably a deal breaker for me. Only sort of kidding.)

    Edited at 2013-01-04 04:03 pm (UTC)
    • I always assumed you had been reading Tolkien from childhood.

      I didn't grow up in a family of readers. My mom took me to the library each week, but I was sort of left adrift to find and try things on my own. I usually picked based on subject; I read anything with a horse in it, for example. Had I picked up TH or LotR as a book read for fun and not a schoolbook, then I probably would have gotten into them sooner. It took me until The Scarlet Letter in 11th grade to realize that one was allowed to enjoy the books one read in school! :) But there was no adult in my life either to even know who Tolkien was much less recommend his books to me.

      My first forays in fan fiction, as a reader, were more inspired by my amazement that such a thing existed and, omg, it meant I could read more about the characters and that was so cool!!1! :) After a while, I became a little more critical and discerning, of course, but did read through everything I could find on ff.net first! :D I'd already written my Feanorian play and started "The Election Farce of Nargothrond," but I thought that was just a private indulgence, nothing that others got up to. AMC was my first piece once I was conscious of the existence of fan fiction, and that was a huge step to take for me, my first explicit rejection of the literary writing culture I'd been taught to embrace as an undergrad.
  • I also came to Tolkien's work through the movies, though I actually did read the books before, because my charmingly pushy friend told me that I "had to" read the books so I could go to the midnight premiere with her. I came in fully prepared to not like them, but like you, I was fortunately won over.

    I'm so glad that Tolkien's work has provided you with a richer and more fun experience in your creative and writing life, as has certainly happened with me.

    To the Professor! (You are so lovely btw! I like your necklace.)
    • I didn't pick up the books until just before RotK. My inlaws got me a huge volume of the entire trilogy for my birthday in September, and I decided I would have the book read before seeing the third movie. Of course, reading the books was what rocketed me from a fan of the movies into genuine membership in the deplorable cult! :D

      Thank you for the compliment! I feel it's high praise for a webcam picture taken at work on a Friday after I stayed up too late the night before. ;) The necklace, believe it or not, came from a theme park! I spotted it in one of those overpriced shops near the entrance and fell in love. Like any good Noldo, I love me my jewelry. ;)
      • Funny, I know several people IRL who wanted to see the movies when they first came out, and read the books in more or less of a hurry beforehand... must be a common path!
  • Every now and then, a comment surfaces about how we waste our time because we can't publish or make money on our work, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

    So true. I realized early on, mostly with music, that pursuing payment for your work is more or less a trap. There's so much more freedom in doing it for love. (If someone hands you money for it later, well then, bonus!)

    And I joked with Huinárë about how writing "silly things" instead of what you're supposed to be writing is productive, because it gets your creative juices flowing -- but it's true! I feel like I'm more inspired in my job because of being able to write things for this deplorable cult.
    • And the sad fact is that the majority of us who practice various arts will never make anything close to a living with what we do. A few years ago, I had a short story accepted into an anthology, and I excitedly told my husband that we'd go to dinner with the payment. Except that the payment was so small that I had to revise that to: "Okay, we'll order a decent bottle of wine." ;) When I think of the hours I put into that story, I really didn't make anything to speak of on it.

      So, honestly, having fun with a story--writing it and maybe sharing it later--is more valuable to me. Every now and then I get motivated and send one of my original pieces out to a magazine, but that ends up being maybe once per year, if that. It's time-consuming to prep a story for that and almost inevitably disappointing, so it's hard to justify spending the time on it at this juncture in my life.
      • OK, so, I'm a magazine editor, and I have to say at this point that "having fun with a story--writing it and maybe sharing it later" is also more valuable to me, in choosing articles. The best stuff comes from people who are inspired, not from people who are trying to wring out a living from our publication (and all our competitors), even in fact-based nonfiction.

        Sadly, this type of thinking doesn't pay as well with advertisers, either, and so we can't afford to pay much to contributors. But hopefully that's a nugget of encouragement to you.
  • I don't know how I managed to do this, but I completely forgot about this *grin*

    *raises her cup of tea, belatedly*
  • Great post (and great necklace, too). I also came to Tolkien through the movies originally, and found the books slow going at first, but eventually I came to appreciate them on their own merits. And eventually read the Sil, then parts of the more obscure canon, and then I finally found that there were other people writing the type of fic I try to write/read, and now this awesome community is part of my life. ^_^

    To the Professor!
  • A late toast

    I somehow doubt the time of the toast would really bother Tolkein. Toasts are best when done when you feel that toast is appropriate.

    Salut! to the esteemed Mr. Tolkein.
  • Like others in this thread I thought you had been a Tolkien fan for ever. I was. I first read LOTR when I was 15, and the Silmarillion as soon as it was available in Spanish (my English at the time wouldn't have coped with the original version). But 4-5 years later it did, and I was awed. I fell in love with the world. I made copies of the maps, I read them to the last comma of the footnotes and appendices.

    When I found SWG, much, much later, I thought I had entered the treasure chamber of Erebor (without the dragon!) So thank you for all you do for us Tolkien lovers. And cheers to the Professor!
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