On Reading Tolkien (Again)

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

“Don’t you want to read something different this year?”

Thus goes the cry every year in my home when I am caught reading The Lord of the Rings again, as if re-reading were a thing that only those with the emotional and literary range of a teaspoon would do. And the thing is, well, I read “something different” all year round. I read Dickens and Asimov and Blake; I read Catherynne Valente and Stephen King, Sebastian Faulks and Terry Pratchett, Markus Zusak, Marisha Pessl, Elizabeth Kostova, Horace Walpole. I read fantasy and science fiction and classics and contemporary and romance. And, just for two months of the year, this is what I want:

I want to walk under the stars of Doriath with Beren and with Luthien.

I want to play riddles in the dark with Bilbo and Gollum.

I want to kick some Nazgul ass with Eowyn of the Rohirrim.

I want to be reminded that “above all shadows rides the Sun”. I want to revisit a world where good and evil is that simple and that black-and-white; where grey and mysterious shapes still wander through the rustling trees; where help comes from the hands of the weak when the wise fail.

And I want to remember that this world can be like that, too. That even amidst the cynicism and the scepticism of a world where money and stuff can sometimes seem like they mean everything, goodness and courage and friendship are still important. That, truly, there is wonder yet in the woods and fields and in the cities and towns. I want to remember why it is important to stand against the darkness, even (and especially) when it most seems to encroach.

Most of all, I want to remember who I am, and why I am who I am. Because the stories we love do that to us. They change us. And Tolkien’s stories have changed me, for better or for worse.

And that, Constant Reader, is the reason why every year I re-read The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Not because I don’t want to read anything else; not because I can’t read anything else; but because whatever “anything else” is, it is not Tolkien.

If any of that made any sense at all, then I congratulate you on your patience.

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