Thursday, September 3, 2009

10 Books A Day: #135

All titles are by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Fellowship Of The Ring...Ninth Printing...Houghton Mifflin Company

The Two Towers...Eighth Printing...Houghton Mifflin Company

The Return Of The King...Eighth Printing...Houghton Mifflin Company

The Fellowship Of The Ring...56th Printing, March 1976...Ballantine Books

The Two Towers...52nd Printing, March 1976...Ballantine Books

The Return Of The King...51st Printing, March 1976...Ballantine Books

The Lord Of The Rings: Collector's Edition...Houghton Mifflin Company

The Lord Of The Rings...Illustrated By Alan Lee...Houghton Mifflin Company

The Lord Of The Rings...One Volume Edition...Houghton Mifflin Company

The Lord Of The Rings...50th Anniversary Edition...Houghton Mifflin Company
I bartered a year of my life for my first look at The Lord of the Rings.
I was in middle school; my older brother Mike was in high school. I had read The Hobbit, and was spellbound; in the back, there was a notice: "If you are interested in Hobbits, you will learn a lot more them in The Lord of the Rings." Our library didn't have copies, and I moaned about the fact. Mike found out the high school library did, and in return for procuring them for me, he had me agree to do his turn of cleaning our bedroom for a year. I remember that after I finished The Fellowship of the Ring I had an agonizing wait for someone to return The Two Towers; in my impatience I peeked into the beginning of The Return of the King. Pippin and Gandalf were headed for Minas Tirith. What? What happened to Frodo? Where was Minas Tirith? It seemed to take forever before I could resume the tale at the right place. But a certain mania was born that year, as well as a new-found tendency to be neat and orderly.
That Christmas I received my first proper set of the trilogy, a gold box-set that also included The Hobbit, all in paperback. These had covers by Tolkien himself; the box was decorated by his "Elvish heraldry" designs. In the copy of The Return of the King are still some special book marks I made, decorated with pictures of the Eye and ring inscription, that I made to mark readings for our annual "Downfall of Sauron" party, duly noted on my Tolkien calendars. I had a complete set of the Darrell K. Sweet covers LOTR, but I sent them to Florida with my brother Yen. I still see them on his shelves when I go to visit, looking very well read.
The copy I really coveted, though, was what we called "the red LOTR", the Collector's Edition. Slip case. Red leatherette. All three parts in one volume. Book marker ribbon. It was the Bible for Tolkienuts. It was the Red Book of Westmarch. When I finally got it, it was for years the place I kept "important" documents. It has since been joined in it's all-in-oneness by the Alan Lee illustrated edition, the movie tie-in edition, and what I can only describe now as "the black LOTR" 50th Anniversary Edition. I read The Lord of the Rings at least once a year, still, but it's getting to the point where I don't have to physically anymore. I can just enter a state of Tolkienity.
Yesterday I was walking to work, slightly after seven a.m., just after posting my stuff about The Hobbit, and thinking about what to say about The Lord of the Rings. It was a beautiful cool morning, with purple skies and golden leaves stirring in the damp morning air. I passed a young neighbor girl, waiting for the bus. We nod and say good morning sometimes. This morning I noticed she was reading something while she waited. It was a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, with a picture of Elijah Wood as Frodo on the cover, and it looked well read.
"Lord of the Rings?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
I thought of about half-a-dozen things. I thought about what a fine thing it was on a beautiful September morning to be reading The Fellowship (my favorite book of the three). About how often as a kid I myself had filled up empty times by journeying into Middle Earth. About how just next door there was the (probably) finest collection in town of all things Tolkien. About how it was just on this day (Sept. 2) that J. R. R. Tolkien had passed away in 1973. In fact, I couldn't think of anything to say that just wouldn't sound kind of creepy coming from a 46 year old man to a maybe 13 year old girl, no matter what sort of feeling of kinship, of continuity, might have just welled up inside of me.
So I just said, "Great!", gave her a thumbs up, and hobbled on to work. But I felt strangely uplifted, and optimistic. A great cycle was going on, and a new generation was discovering Tolkien's books, and not just limiting themselves to the movies, or to vampires, or to boy-wizards. The world was enchanted again.
Book Count: 1606.

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