Before recent times when I have seemingly restricted my reading menu to the Economist, I was an avid reader. I can think of many books that arguably changed me, but only one (series) that for sure changed me twice. That would be “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien.
I believe I read the series for the first time in 7th grade and then again in 9th grade. I wrote papers about the series in high school. I tried to find anything and everything Tolkien wrote related to the series. As with movies that have made an impression on me, I often find myself thinking of relevant quotes from the series as I encounter different situations over time. It’s very compelling that such a hardy and diverse band of characters come together under the unexpected and excruciating pressure of saving the world and are able to execute under the most severe conditions.
An important part of the series’ influence on me was the nobility and grace of Gandalf and Aragorn. Of course their talents are abundant but what is even more notable is the humility with which they accept and carry out their leadership roles. They’re each capable of exerting great force, but they also recognize that force alone cannot accomplish their goal of destroying Sauron’s ring. Ultimately they have no choice but to devote their considerable strengths to serving as a decoy to draw out the enemy while rolling the dice on two hobbits making their way across an impossible landscape to achieve ultimate victory. They both encounter temptations up to and including the possibility of claiming the ring for themselves, but they stay true to the fellowship and the quest until the end.
An equally important element of the series is the development of the hobbits Frodo, Samwise, Marry and Pippin from irrelevant, fun-loving creatures to central characters in the drama. Much of this is depicted well in Peter Jackson’s movie series. But the part of the series I enjoy the most — when the four hobbits return to the Shire after the destruction of the ring — does not appear in the movies. Tolkien, in my opinion, brilliantly depicts the hobbits’ newfound maturity as they sort out the chaos wrought by the fallen wizard Saruman that has descended on the Shire.
So taking all of the above into account, the series has really been both a great source of enjoyment and a prism through which I understand aspects of real life as well as life on Middle Earth. On this basis, it’s appropriate to say “The Lord of the Rings” has changed me. But there is a different reason why it changed me again.
When my now college-age son was 4 1/2 years old, I began to read “The Hobbit” to him, a few pages almost every night as he was going to bed. One thing led to another and by the time I finished reading the third and final book of “The Lord of the Rings” to him, he was past his seventh birthday. This two-and-a-half-year odyssey bonded us powerfully as we discussed why, learned new words and explored new concepts. It might explain why my son has been a voracious reader of fantasy novels to the point that he recently commanded me to read George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of which the “Game of Thrones” is the first book and the name of the HBO series.
Sometime after I finished reading the series to my son, our family was on one of our cruises. The manager of our Adventure Ocean youth program told me about a discussion the youth counselors had had with some of the children about parent/child activities. The manager wanted me to know how deeply touched the counselors were to hear my young son describe our mutual experience of “The Lord of the Rings” night after night, month after month, from beginning to end. The series had changed both of us, me for the second time.
This entry was originally published on LinkedIn.