Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Long Shadow of Little Shire-folk

You may have heard me mention what a rabid Conan the Barbarian fan I was growing up.  How I discovered him in the comic shop near where I lived.  How, later, rummaging in one of Portland, Oregon's many used book stores, I discovered something so fantastically amazing, so utterly, breathtakingly bizarre that I'm sure my 11 year old brain flipped inside my head.  In fact I'm pretty sure the world spun:  There was a whole section of sword and sorcery books (conveniently placed nearby "Conan's novels") that did not star my favorite barbarian.  They were called fantasy novels.

What in... THE HELL????  Where did all these come from?

Well, I was hooked.  And soon thereafter I discovered my new hero - actually it was a family of heroic little guys that went by the name of Baggins - Again, soon thereafter, my little twelve year old imagination began to wonder what went into making a world like that.  I began to draw maps, and make up hero names.  Not like Baggins or Brandybuck.  More like Kickbutticus MacSwordbreaker.  And I begain to wonder:  is it possible to write a story like that?  I doubted it.  I mean, I went to the bookstore and the shelves were all full.  Just stuffed end to end.  It didn't seem like they needed any more books.  I even asked the guy at the register - which turned into an embarassing scene that ended in my running home and telling my mother, "I don't want to talk about it, mom!"

Still my mind returned to the notion:  could my boook ever be up there next to The Hobbit? 

The answer would eventually be yes.  Sort of, lol.  This morning... I could not believe it.  Seriously.  I had to refresh the page - imagine my heart-numbing shock when I woke to find Mandragon ranked right under The Hobbit.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Uncle Tolkien

Imagine knowing Tolkien.  Personally.  Not  the affable old pipe-smoking Oxford Don, his accent so think he is barely comprehensible, scribbling about holes in the ground wherein live hobbits.  Let’s just start with the young, scholarly roughneck, i.e., a guy named Ronald who has alread kicked his share of both mental and literal ass.  A rugby player throughout his school years, by the time got his scholarship to Oxford, he had broken his nose, cut off a chunk of his tongue, and gained a firm, well-deserved reputation as the wrong dude to mess with.

And yet, when he got there, he and his friends translated nursery rhymes into Anglo Saxon.

It would boggle the mind.  We'd probably laugh, and in our meaner moods, talk about him behind his back:  

That guy is nuts.  Who does that?  That’s just insane, lol. 

And he did this while already regularly smoking his pipe… which he would later in life fill with a special cocktail of tobacco and opium.

And from there, it just gets more bizarre:   

He disliked Shakespeare.  With a passion.   And anything French.  The language.  The cooking.  All of it.  He was the one who converted C.S. Lewis back to Christianity.  And he and his wife are buried in the same grave… below a tombstone inscribed "Beren" and "LĂșthien," in honor of two characters from The Silmarillion.

… and have you read The Silmarillion?...  Good googly moogly.

So how on Earth did he describe us so well?... What I mean to say is that, while almost none of us consider ourselves very Tolkienesque, we can all find ourselves a bit hobbitish from time to time, can't we?  His heroes are chubby, for God's sake!  How fantastic is that?  They love to eat, just like us.  They want to drink a bit, dance a bit, and get into just a little bit of trouble... 

And yet, there he sits, Tolkien.  Off in a corner of our mind, war hero, eccentric, perched there like some uncle we will never fully understand but always love.   He taught many of us our love of language and made a simple, green life far less hippy-ish and political.

It boggles the mind beyond boggling....