Originally published in a slightly altered form on tentonhammer.com
When I think about what books mean to me, I always remember back to when I was a child and my parents had a few books from the 1950’s full of amazing facts about how things worked. These books were my first experience with the potential of the written word; they showed me all of the things I could discover about the world around me and more importantly, they showed me worlds that could be my playground. Places I could only dream of flowed from the pages and into my imagination, inspiring me to dream of far off places and of goals worth fighting for.
Out of every book that I have ever read, there was one book that captured my imagination like no other. My very first copy of it was old and well read, a copy printed in 1975 that was bought at a charity shop for a lot less money than it was worth. It smelled wonderful, like all books should and I remember loving the weight of it in my hands. It always seemed that the book itself was weighed down with the dramatic events that unfolded amongst its pages. The book in question was The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.
I remember my first journey to Middle Earth as if it was yesterday. At the age of twelve, still full of imagination and new to the mysteries of life, the universe and everything. I happily packed my bags and let J.R.R Tolkien take me on a journey through the most fabulous world I had ever seen.
I was there as Bilbo magically disappeared from in front of his startled party guests! I was there when Gandalf confronted him in his Hobbit-hole and made him give up the ring. I watched as Frodo and his friends made their way from the Shire to Rivendell. We were chased by horrifying men in black cloaks riding terrifying steeds; we were almost killed by a tree in a strange, scary old forest and rescued not once, but twice by a weird guy in a yellow hat and yellow shoes who danced and sang a lot.
I devoured the three Lord of the Rings books eagerly and could hardly wait to turn the page to see how this rag-tag band of brave heroes could possibly overcome the odds stacked against them. I felt it keenly when Gandalf met his end in Moria, selflessly sacrificing himself for his friends. His death affected me so much that when, years later, I saw my girlfriend burst into tears when watching that same event at the cinema, I understood why she was crying and felt those old pains again.
For me, those books weren’t just a great way to pass a few hours, for that boy they were so much more. They were a way for me to leave whatever pre-teen troubles I may have had and journey in a mythical world of magic and mystery. They made a fan out of me, not just for Tolkien and his work but for the whole fantasy genre. Then of course, as we all must do, I grew up, and Frodo and his impossible quest faded from my mind. My life went on, straying only now and then into the realm of fantasy, a dabble with table top fantasy RPG’s here and a play on a fantasy MMORPG there, but nothing could measure up to those magical moments of my youth, striding across the amazingly described countryside of Middle-Earth.
In all of the years since I first read that story, I have never lost my desire to read it, even though I know it as well as I know my own life story. It doesn’t matter, the magic of Middle-Earth still manages to capture my imagination and take me to a place full of dragons and magic and the fight of Good vs. Evil.
My experience with this one book and the myriad others I have read since has fostered a love of books and libraries inside of me that can never be replaced by anything else. I still feel a small childish thrill every time I walk into a library and smell that dusty bookish smell of the place. Somehow, that smell is always the same, whether the library is a brand new modern building or a glorious old fashioned one. That, for me, is how it should be. Libraries remind me and should remind all of us of the potential of books and the knowledge they contain. Whether you marvel at the engineering genius behind an automobile or a suspension bridge or whether you follow two small Hobbits on their epic journey to a brooding volcano, libraries and the books they hold expand the limits of our imagination, helping us to see what should be abundantly clear to us all; there are no limits to our imagination!
Whether you have a huge library at your disposal, or just a few books at home, there is no difference in the potential. Even if your local library feels like a small place, it really is just a tiny part of a much bigger world. A world I’ve always loved to explore. Won’t you join me? After all, the road leads ever on and on!