“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”— Chapter III, The Fellowship of the Ring.
I first heard about J R R Tolkien in 1967, from a fellow student who brazenly flourished under my nose her three hardback volumes of The Lord of the Rings given by her parents. She enthused about it so much that, when the one-volume paperback (minus the appendices) came out in 1968 I promptly bought myself a copy from my rapidly-depleting student grant and first immersed myself properly in Middle-earth.
How had I not heard of him before, or his works? — because by this time the third edition of The Hobbit had been published in 1966, and hobbitomania was starting to make itself manifest in popular culture — and yet all of that had somehow passed me by. I am one of those who barely remembers the sixties because I sleepwalked my way through them, and for a few decades more.
Anyway, that was the start of my involvement with the work of what Paul Kocher called the Master of Middle-earth. I read The Lord of the Rings pretty much every ten years or so until my 1968 edition with its Pauline Baynes cover eventually fell apart: sometime, probably in the new millennium as the Jackson trilogy opened in the cinemas, I acquired a pre-loved 1993 edition with appendices and a John Howe illustration of Gandalf on the cover.
I mention all this now that I’ve embarked on what I estimate will my sixth read of LOTR, as I seem to have missed out on my scheduled Middle-earth visit in the 2010s. Since 1968 I’ve acquired a fair few commentaries and atlases, along with a few other of Tolkien’s writings, and I’ll be using some of these commentaries to help inform my reading, whether to agree or to demur from their speculations or conclusions.
If it doesn’t pain you too much I shall be making progress reports on this journey over some weeks and months. I shall try hard to find something new to say that isn’t either hackneyed or trite, and I’ll aim to post about some of the commentaries before the glue in the binding cracks fatally, to repost or link to some of my earlier reviews and discussions — in fact I shall be doing a lot of talking about Tolkien.
Oh, and today is International Unicorn Day, apparently, so I’ll leave you with my unicorn warning triangle, the idea pinched from a road sign in the far west of Wales.