According to the little “Today in history” gadget on my iGoogle page, today marks the anniversary of the departure of Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship from the woods of Lorien.
I am so glad that something more interesting than 1971’s “Decimalisation of British and Irish coinage” and more heartening that 399 B.C.’s “Socrates sentenced to die” happened on this day...
Coincidentally, I had been planning to write a Tolkien post for tomorrow, but then, I didn’t know what an important day today was. I hope you can forgive me throwing off my schedule to honor the anniversary. :)
So, yes, it will be today that my full geekiness is revealed for you all. I can write in Elvish. I know the dwarvish runic alphabet called “Futhork.” According to The Hobbit Name Generator, my hobbit name is Peony Bleecker-Baggins of Fair Downs, and my self-determined Elvish name is Aldariel (it means “Tree Maiden”). If I had to choose a race, it’d be Rohan, hands down...but who wants to choose?
(I imagine standing on a stage in your underwear feels a little like it just did to reveal all that...)
Luckily, I’m not the only one with such a strange fascination. If you read Leonard Marcus’s brilliant book of interviews with fantasy writers, The Wand in the Word, you’ll see a running theme: Tolkien. I heard Mr. Marcus speak about this phenomenon at a conference. “The only writer who didn’t like The Lord of the Rings,” he said, “was Phillip Pullman. He also didn’t believe in God. I think--no, I’m sure, the two are related.”
Which leads us into a “secret” of Tolkien’s genius: he wrote about what he believed. He wrote his passions. He wrote about things that mattered to him, and thus matter to the world. He didn’t care that a fantasy steeped with myth and magic and made-up languages was not the trend. He wrote about what he loved, and the world came to love it with him.
He also practiced what he preached. Even with a work like that, he put his family first. He avoided the spotlight and preferred, hobbit-like, to spend his time in a garden or cozy pub. He was a thoughtful, generous, and honest friend. He passionately defended the oppressed, as when he wrote a letter to his German publisher, who had inquired if he was of Aryan descent:
“But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject—which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.”
All of this aside, the single reason I am most grateful to Tolkien is this: Eowyn. You just don’t get better than that when it comes to girl power, whatever the idiots, er, misinformed people who claim Tolkien was anti-woman say. (Did they read the last book??) She has become a sort of standard for me, to hold my own heroines up against. There’s a scale, you see, with Eowyn on one end and Bella on the other...(Just kidding, just kidding...)
I hope my fellow Tolkien
Now, as Galadriel would say, Namárie! (Farewell!)