Dear Lord of the Rings,
When I first decided to do this project I knew that this would be an important letter. You’re one of those series of books that I have such a deep emotional connection to simply because you were a gift. A gift from my father who, I knew, had liked the books when he was younger. Reading them made me feel closer to him. After the first one, I even read his old copies. It was a strangely bonding experience even though we’ve never actually discussed the series. Maybe I’m just putting too much sentimentality onto an act that, in all likelihood, he’s not thought of since but, goddammit, I’m a bit of a drama queen so indulge me.
As I keep proving my memory of significant literary events from my childhood is abysmal. So, really, I have no memory of the exact date I first got given a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring but I do know I got it for Christmas. I remember sitting on my parents bed early in the morning with my twin and opening our presents. I can’t pretend I was necessarily thrilled when I first saw it but I was young and distracted by other things. I was an idiot, basically.
And I continued to be an idiot for a good few years. I tried to read you as soon as I got you but I didn’t get too far. I’m not even sure that, on the first try, I even made it through the first chapter. Sorry but, in my defence, you are a bit of a slog. I think I tried a few times over the years but never got all the way through you. Until I watched the film. I know I probably lose some bookish points for admitting that but, unfortunately, it’s the truth. I adored everything about Peter Jackson’s first installment and it inspired me to pick you up again.
I finally made it through your first book and I fell in love with Tolkien’s writing. I get that he uses too many songs and has too many pit stops along the way. He’s incredibly descriptive and takes his sweet time making a point. It’s a difficult and indulgent read but there is so much charm within your pages it’s hard not to want to carry on. He created more than just a story: he created a whole world that you want to immerse yourself in. You want to meet these characters. You want to walk these lands. You never want to leave. It’s an epic tale that was unlike anything I’d ever read before. The only fantasy that I’d probably consumed up until this point was likely only watered down YA nonsense. You were the real deal. You didn’t hold back or speak down to us. You challenged me as a reader and I was desperate to prove myself.
So I sped (compared to the journey I went on with the first book anyway) through The Two Towers and mourned for Boromir all over again. I rejoiced at seeing Theoden as he should be: powerful and wise. I welcomed back Gandalf and begged Aragorn to leave Arwen for Eowyn. I loved every minute of it… and, let’s be honest, there were a lot of minutes. I was cocky by the time I’d finished. I thought I understood you and could beat you. Thought I had become the kind of reader that could sail through your final book with ease.
I was wrong.
It was about halfway through The Return of the King that I realised I hadn’t prepared enough. I was like those hikers you hear about that try to climb Ben Nevis wearing trainers and a pair of shorts. Yes, I didn’t nearly die of hypothermia but I think the analogy stands. I thought I’d be okay without proper boots and walking gear but I got stuck. I left you for a bit before carrying on. Still I failed. You were too tough a climb. I don’t know how many attempts it took before I reached your summit but, eventually, I made it. And it felt great. I was exhausted, obviously, but it was an accomplishment.
I’ve never dared to try to read you again but I’ll never forget how it felt the first time. How it felt to finally achieve the very thing I’d worked so hard for. I’ve never put so much effort into reading. I know it probably seems like a bad thing but it’s not. You weren’t difficult because you were bad but because you’re so good. Maybe too good. Tolkien put so much into you that it’s difficult to come to terms with that. You’re the original bookish nerd. You’re the ultimate social introvert. You don’t let every reader in but the ones that prove themselves are friends forever. It just takes that little bit longer to get to know the real you. And I’m glad I never gave up.
All’s well that ends better.