Happy Birthday, J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien

I remember picking up The Hobbit for the first time.  I was a Junior in High School, and I had been playing Dungeons and Dragons with some friends of mine.  Some of the campaigns involved halflings, and even Gandalf was used as a wizard character to portray the wizard from Curse of Azure Bonds.  Having a little exposure to Tolkien’s stories through Rankin & Bass’ The Hobbit and The Return of the King, and also Bashki’s The Lord of the Rings, I felt an urge to finally read the stories myself.

I rode my bike to Target and purchased The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.  I thought that might be a good starting point.  My brother owned The Lord of the Rings, so I settled to borrow his copies.  After going through The Hobbit and then moving toward Unfinished Tales  (after a couple chapters I got confused and stopped), I then moved on to The Fellowship of the Ring.  I found myself loving the book, feeling fully immersed in Middle Earth, a little disappointed there were no dragons, but fully enjoying Frodo’s adventure with Gandalf, Sam, Pippin, Merry and Aragorn.  Elrond lightened the mood, or perhaps darkened it further in The Council of Elrond.

And then the Fellowship of the Ring entered Moria.  It felt wholly uneventful until when, in the Chamber of Mazarbul, a battle erupts and Gandalf faces a nemesis more powerful than he had ever encountered.  Durin’s Bane, the Balrog of Morgoth erupts in flame and shadow, unleashing his full might upon the Fellowship.  I remember feeling overjoyed at The Bridge of Khazad-dûm, when Gandalf held the bridge with a spell, casting his foe into the chasm.  I remember my heart sinking with a last Boom! of the drum of the chapter, remembering Gandalf’s last words “Fly, you fools!” , when a whip of flame snaked around his ankles and pulled him down after the Balrog.  I could barely read the rest of the book.  After I was finished, my heart was ill with the rest of the Fellowship, and felt I could not continue without Gandalf the Grey, the lovable wizard who was fond of hobbits, quick to anger, but ever soft-hearted.

I would not continue with the Fellowship until my Junior year in college.  My heart was renewed with hope when I found Gandalf the Grey had been resurrected as Gandalf the White.  The tide had turned, and I found the strength to move on with the Three Hunters.  I followed Sam and Frodo with every last step to the Crack of Doom, there, and back again.  I felt I had survived.  I had completed the journey.  It was a bittersweet moment seeing Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf away at the Grey Havens, but a good memory to carry and to come back to now and then.

So now I raise a glass of whiskey to the late professor, J.R.R. Tolkien.  Thank you for these wonderful memories.  We will see each other, someday, at the turn of the tide and the dawn of a new age.  I think we will smile at each other and laugh, remembering the long past days of Middle Earth, and cherish the heritage that had been passed onto a wider audience of his subcreation.  Cheers, Professor, and Happy Twelvety-First Birthday!