In the continuing series on my creative influences, it’s almost a given that J.R.R. Tolkien would be in the list. I can’t imagine any reader of fantasy and science fiction who hasn’t devoured his work (and countless others outside fans of that genre).
For me, his works came early. I was reading “tough” books long before they were assigned in school. Thanks to Grandma, I had already read Dickens, Homer, even Hemingway (not quite my cup of tea) in my single digits. I didn’t read them with scholarly perception or divine the subtext in a particular section, I just read them as books. For, you know, enjoyment.
Though I joke about how “long ago” it’s been since my youth, there were real differences in our environment. Perhaps the most stark compared to now was the almost mythic importance of libraries. Like my first bank book, my library card seemed to be a license to some vast treasure hoard that I could pick and choose from without restraint. Well, I guess the physical weight of all those books (hardbacks, almost always) did constitute some form of limitation for a skinny little boy. Nevertheless, I had an endless supply of reading material at all times.
There has been vast exploration, discussion and dissection of Tolkien’s life and works. I won’t bore you with repetition of that. What made Tolkien’s books so impactful to me that they were, for a time, the only books I re-read, was the fascinating texture he created in his writing.
His books seemed, on the surface, an extraordinary tale of a fantasy world that could possibly have been our own distant past. The panorama he created was intricate and detailed, but it was easily accessible to young readers. The unique property of his books that kept me coming back is that they had the ability to be read with a youth’s mind and then later with an adult’s mind, with each viewpoint offering a different level of enjoyment.
That concept amazed me. While I would never suggest similarities between Tolkien’s works and mine, if there was any one facet I wanted to bring to my own writing, it was the ability to not “write down” to kids reading my books, making it something that could be enjoyed by any age.
Tolkien’s work convinced me not to judge the capability of a reader by his age. His stories proved to me that if you work hard to make the writing engaging, make it worth the reader’s time, old and young will enjoy the book to their own level.
I cannot think of a more valuable lesson I learned from any writer.