Happy [Belated] Birthday, Tolkien!
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!