The Undying Lands
Via The Grey Havens, Eriador
Dear Professor Tolkien,
I hope you’ll forgive the intrusion of this letter, but I feel a certain indebtedness and gratitude toward you. There’s a weight to these feelings that compels me to commit them to writing. Although I’ve felt them for some time, writing you about them seems like something that shouldn’t be put off. You see, back here in the mortal realm we’re experiencing a pandemic. Oh, I’m in good health, thankfully. But times like these make you realize that weighty feelings of indebtedness and gratitude shouldn’t be dawdled over.
Having said that, they are feelings that are difficult for me to fully express. Fortunately for me, writing is my best means for working things through. Unfortunately for you, this process rarely proves to be concise or tidy. I’m even having trouble figuring out where to start. I suppose I’d better go all the way back to the beginning.
The beginning is simple, really. It all starts with your stories, and my love of them. So yes, this is—in no small part—a fan letter. But as I hope you’ll come to see, it goes beyond fandom. I once wrote an essay that explains how my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Raymond, was responsible for my first reading The Hobbit, and then The Lord of the Rings, as well. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy reading fiction prior to that. But your works captured my imagination in a new and exciting way. My immersion as a boy into the story of Frodo and the One Ring, and world of Middle Earth, became central to my reading life. Which ended up making your work foundational to my adult life.
Much of how this transpired is due to the fact that The Lord of the Rings left me longing for more. Please forgive me as well for saying that works like The Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham did absolutely nothing to satisfy that longing. You must remember, we’re talking about the early 1970’s, several years before the posthumous publication of The Silmarillion. I’ve often told the story of how my father, who understood my ardor, handed me a copy of Time Magazine with a consoling look. He’d folded it back to the page with your obituary. I recall the moment with such clarity. What I experienced wasn’t just sadness for the passing of an author an ocean away. It was a sort of deep grief for the loss of a creator who’d expanded my imagination as no one else had. It was enhanced by the shock of the realization that there would be no more—no new stories of Middle Earth (of course I had no way of knowing how wrong I would be about this).
It was in that moment, at the age of twelve, that I first resolved to become a storyteller. [Read more…]