Forty years after I first encountered the work of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, I am still on a wonderful journey of discovery in his world.
I had moment to think about it on the weekend when my wife and I passed through Miramar, Wellington and stopped at the ‘Weta Cave’. It’s a store run by Weta Workshop, who made the props for Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien’s work. In typical Kiwi fashion it’s in an unprepossessing building of late 1930s austerity construction.
Most of the buildings in the area are like this. It’s the heart of Peter Jackson’s movie-making empire. You wouldn’t think so, to look at it. But that’s the magic of movies for you.
Though the Park Road Post Production building is pretty impressive.
The visit – coupled with last week’s viewing of The Hobbit movie – got me thinking. I wouldn’t call myself a ‘fan’. I approach Tolkien with a critical eye, I don’t consume every word. Each volume in my copy of The Lord of The Rings is from a totally different paperback edition and I’ve never bothered to get any of the different illustrated, one-volume or ‘collectors’ versions issued since.
But I like his created world and his writing very much indeed, and have ever since I was eight or nine – about as long, in fact, that I’ve been writing myself.
It was the Pauline Baynes map that captured me first. Her artwork was evidently frowned upon by Tolkien himself. But it spoke of adventure, of exploration – of the unknown. I wanted to experience that magic – to live that world. I started imagining. A little later, I read The Hobbit. And I was hooked. I still have that copy of the book, the third edition paperback with Tolkien’s own ‘Death of Smaug’ sketch as cover art. It’s totally battered. I don’t know how often I’ve read it. Lots.
A year or two after that I read The Lord Of The Rings. And read it again. And again. And again. And many times again after that. I’ve read it only twice since I was a teenager – but I can still pretty much quote passages from it.
Tolkien’s work spoke to me on many levels. He conveyed a sense of wonder on an epic scale, yet in terms that brought that wonder back to ‘ordinary’ through the hobbits. I could share their sense of discovery, of growth, as the world unfolded for them – and which they had to find the strength to handle.
Later, as I learned more about literature and writing, I came to realise just how much of the essence of the western mind Tolkien had put into his work. My enjoyment of his world became a journey of discovery – re-awakening a sense of wonder when I read his material.
I am still on that journey, and it is a wonderful journey indeed.
How about you? Are you a Tolkien enthusiast? What drew you to his work? And if he’s not your cup of tea – well, what doesn’t appeal? It’s all valid. I don’t like some of his material myself, actually – too inaccessible, too academic; or written in ways that don’t capture. As I say, I approach this with a critical eye – not adulating fandom. But what he imagined remains very much a part of my life.
What are your thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013