“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
“Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”
– G.K. Chesterton
With the release of the film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug my thoughts have turned to J.R.R. Tolkien. While the jury may still be out on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit film series, he certainly did a fine job with The Lord of the Rings movies. It’s not all that often that I catch a film the first week it’s out, let alone opening day. I will see The Desolation of Smaug but first I want to watch An Unexpected Journey again. You see, although she loves me dearly, this really isn’t my wife’s kind of film. When An Unexpected Journey came out last year she went with me, hiding her face in my shoulder half the time. Ugly ogres and action-adventure violence isn’t my wife’s cup of tea. She prefers the relationship drama of Sense and Sensibility or The Notebook….Anyway, my sweet wife’s uneasiness while watching that movie was a bit of a distraction, so a fresh look before attending the sequel is necessary.
One of my literary mentors, I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien in High School. After reading The Hobbit, I was hesitant to go on to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The popular slogan “Frodo Lives!” referred to how The Hobbit’s main character, Bilbo was over taken by his “nephew” Frodo. Loathing the fact that my dear friend Bilbo was replaced in the sequel, I put off reading the trilogy for 10 years. In addition, not really having been a big reader when I was young, the combined 1,100+ pages of the three books seemed overwhelming. Since then though, I’ve read The Hobbit three or four times, and The Lord of The Rings twice. It probably won’t be too long before I read all four books again. They speak to my yearning for adventure, of daring deeds, along with providing that great “fellowship” of friends and wise counselors. They are well worth revisiting.
Beyond the entertainment books and films offer, most men don’t quite understand how “story” affects them. Busy with his daily life, I don’t think the average guy spends a lot of time in reflection and self-evaluation. It’s just not a natural male trait. I’m not saying that most men are shallow – it’s more the fact that we just aren’t all that in touch with, or really understand our own male natures, let alone being in touch with our feminine side. We just accept who and what we are without a lot of self-examination. Part of it may be a man is afraid of what he might find if he goes there and you know how a guy hates to admit he’s afraid, even to himself.
I stumbled upon Victoria Dougherty’s “Cold” blog recently. Her “10 Reasons Why Men Must Start Reading Fiction Again” is excellent. She speaks of how men used to read, especially fiction, but not so much any more. Victoria says, “The difference between fiction and non-fiction is the difference between learning morals and learning manners. One will get you through a dinner party and the other will get you through life.” She goes on to say, “The novel has been an unfailing aid in [a man’s] evolution – in learning to love, becoming a husband and a father, being a friend. Doing what is right and understanding the consequences of shirking his morals and ethics.”
For me the value of a well chosen biography is obvious, still Victoria has apply put forth the argument for beefing up my fiction reading list. Till now, I’ve been catching up on the classics, reading Mark Twain, Shakespeare and Jules Verne. I’ve also included more recent classics by John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler and Ray Bradbury. And being a guy, a Tom Clancy thriller or two will be added to the Robert Ludlum and John Grisham books I’ve read. But to reach a little deeper, I will re-read two of my favorite books, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. These are the books that get me to think and maybe understand some things about myself that I probably would not have broached of my own accord.
This has helped me to realize that Tolkien was one of the catalysts to get me started down this road of growth and maturity. His stories of Middle Earth, the characters and struggles, helped me to explore the hunger within myself to be part of something bigger than I am. Men have a natural desire for adventure, an ache to be involved in heroic deeds and be a part of an epic story. Though we rarely admit it, we long to be part of a “fellowship” of men. Tolkien’s works have all of this and more.
I owe a debt to J.R.R. Tolkien, for opening my eyes. That is the purpose of a mentor. That is a reason for reading. That is a reason for reading Fiction.
“Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.”
– Flannery O’Connor