In honor of the day, I am going to tell you my Tolkien story.
I was born in 1966, which makes me almost 50 years old. I've been a Tolkien fan for 40 of those years. When I was around 10 and my brother was around 8, my mom read The Hobbit aloud to both of us. I remember that she read to us every night, but very few of the books made enough of an impression on me that I specifically recall the book. The Hobbit was one (the other, oddly enough, was Julie Edwards The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles).
It was at that point that I fell in like with Tolkien and Middle Earth. It wasn't until a few years later that I experienced true love, after pulling The Lord of the Rings off their shelf and devouring it. My edition of The Lord of the Rings was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1965, the year before I was born.
I shamelessly stole it from my parents when I moved out of the house. I don't think they much mind, actually, because neither of them are the fans that I am. I've boxed and unboxed those books at least fifteen times, moving from dorm to apartment to house. They are the one constant that is always on my bookshelves, along with my battered copy of To Kill A Mockingbird.
I've read The Hobbit aloud to both of my children in the years since I became the reader/mom as opposed to the listener/child. My kids are four years apart, so reading them the same book never really worked for us - I would read to my son first, and then a little bit later, I would read to my daughter. She got The Hobbit first, and liked it fine, but my son really connected to the story much more than she did.
It is a lovely read-aloud, full of magic and mystery and beautiful words that trip off the tongue like poetry. The songs, which are so irritating when silently reading, are lovely to read aloud.
I can't think of any books that have meant more to me than Tolkien's, except for Harry Potter, and that in an entirely different way. I've seen the movies, played the games, even written a long and embarrassing piece of Eowyn fan-fiction. As a horse-crazy girl, Rohan has always been my favorite part of Tolkien's world. And Faramir was my book boyfriend before the term existed. He still is, even if Peter Jackson got the casting all wrong, and substantially dialed down his awesomeness for no good reason whatsover.
As I've gotten older, I've become more awed by the amazing textuality of Tolkien's work, and the enormous depth and richness to his world. As a medievalist, he understood well the way that stories evolved and changed over time, and he adopted that transformative process as part and parcel of his work, framing and reframing the events in his books using the eyes and voices of the different characters, over time. As a linguist, he understood the power of words to call a world into being.
It seems like the books I read when I was young are the ones that have stuck with me the most strongly. I'm not sure that I would love Middle Earth quite so much if it, and I, didn't have so much history together. Tolkien helped to make me a reader of worlds.
Happy Tolkien Reading Day.