I ain’t tellin’ no lie.
Mine’s a tale that can’t be told,
My freedom I hold dear;
How years ago in days of old
When magic filled the air,
‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor
I met a girl so fair,
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up
And slipped away with her.
–“Ramble On,” Led Zeppelin
Today I went to the first annual Tolkien Reading Day event in Syracuse. Syracuse Post Standard columnist (and blogger) Sean Kirst is actually the creator of the entire idea of a Tolkien Reading Day, as he explains in a recent column. Sean wrote to the international Tolkien Society and asked why there wasn’t a Tolkien equivalent of the Bloomsday celebrations that fans of novelist James Joyce celebrate across the world. The society said, “hey that’s a great idea!”
So, I went to the event held at the Broadway coffee shop, corner of Midland and Seneca Turnpike (the guys who decided not to sell out to a convenience store/gas station–one of the best planning decision made in this city recently. Stop in and get a coffee, a sandwich or try the homemade ice cream they sell out of the adjacent Arctic Island stand.)
I went, not for the Tolkien, but because I liked the fact that donations would go to the Ted Grace reading program at Corcoran High School. In fact, I thought that I had never read or heard any Tolkien before (never being a big fantasy/SF reader.) But when I heard some of the people there reading from one of his Lord of The Rings books, the Led Zeppelin song quoted above drifted into my head. Jimmy and Robert obviously were devotees, so years of FM radio listening has obviously softened me up for the trilogy. The Reading Day program was great, even though I’m still not sure I’m going to read any Tolkien (I’ve got stacks of unread books all over my house that are already waiting in line, somewhat patiently.)
What was truly inspiring were the stories that all the readers told before launching into their piece of the Tolkien chapter read aloud at the event today. Readers both young and old, male and female, told wonderful stories about how they had gotten the Tolkien fever. One woman told of reading aloud from Tolkien’s trilogy for an entire summer as her younger sister recuperated from an illness–an experience that not only inculcated a love of the stories, but an even stronger lifelong bond between the sisters. Some of the youngsters came to the books through the recent movies. Others stumbled across the dogeared copies of their parents’ Tolkien books and got hooked that way. Some of the parents had gotten hooked through college English classes. One retired professor had another of today’s readers in his class. A different retired professor’s husband taught yet another of today’s readers in his class. She had been introduced to Tolkien by one of her students.
What was great about the stories was the obvious love of reading related by everyone in the room. In a time when we’re all online and kids seem to spend more time on video games than books, it was wonderful to see people transfixed by the written word. A wave of boomer nostalgia washed over me, even though I’ve never read a word of Tolkien. But I do remember the days when summer trips to the library with my mom were highlights of my vacation. I remember the times I stuck a paperback in my back pocket and went somewhere outside and private to read. I remember using a flashlight to read under the covers after my bedtime (and my reading fanatic mother never once busting me.)
Now I’ve got to find a Hunter S. Thompson, Flannery O’Connor or William Kennedy event! Thanks Sean, see you next year.