~ J.R.R. Tolkien
Do you remember the first time you were inspired to write?
I was seven. No older than seven. A tiny child in elementary school who had maybe two friends, and a Super Nintendo console. At the time it didn’t really bother me. I suppose it could be due to how bookish I always was. According to stories, I had taught myself to read at a much younger age, before school started — The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss. I had wandered out to the back yard where my aunt, uncle & parents sat one pretty Cape Cod evening. I was supposed to be sleeping. They hadn’t begun to yell yet — nor did the questions yet begin. I scrambled into a white patio chair, opened my book and read it to them. I don’t remember this as pure fact. I only vaguely recall such things happening. But I was reading everything I could get my hands on and wrap my brain around since that time.
I credit my uncle’s taste in literature for why I write, to be honest. I believe that he was visiting my mom one summer while we still lived on the Cape. I remember a white laundry basket, with one handle fixed with black tape, full of old books. I was told not to touch, but I wanted to. I remember trying to sneak over into my uncle’s stuff to pick through the books — plenty of them were about this elf-guy Drizzt Do’urden written by someone who went by the name R.A. Salvatore. This was important, because at the time I wasn’t aware that there were such things as genres. I just liked a good story. Some of the books I read back then still stay with me. Titles like The Trumpet of the Swan, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Bound for Oregon, Chasing Redbird, and Where The Sidewalk Ends. Some because I made my parents take me to libraries, and some because of book reports for grade school. But these books meant adventure, with the very first of which being to try to run away fast enough after being caught with an R.A. Salvatore book in my hands. I probably clung to the book and stood there like a deer in the headlights, though, because I don’t remember running.
When I got in trouble, I was told to go to my room. I was also told no TV, no music. They would be listening. Apparently, I knew better than to touch other peoples’ stuff. Regardless, I was always okay with this isolation, even if I did cry at first. I had books. I could read. At worst, I could take a nap. My little sister shuffled in just before dinner. She had a bowl cut, and was wearing a tee shirt a little bit too big. A fluffy black cat waltzed in to our room in her wake. I remember her blue sippy cup, and how small it made her hands seem.
“You can come out now,” she said, as if I had put myself there. I didn’t question this. We always either fought or we didn’t, even at that age. At the moment, she was the same baby I would read my books to at night when we were supposed to be sleeping — calm and curious, despite the fact that she could read, too.
After dinner, my uncle sat with us and played a few rounds of Super Mario Kart. I always played Peach. He always played Toad. And if Kristin was lucky enough to get a turn, she’d pick Bowser. (I never really understood that choice until she grew up. Basically, we all should’ve known. Hehe.) The TV in our room was old, and low to the ground. It had knobs instead of buttons, and Uncle always had to readjust it so the screen colors on the game weren’t mostly blue. We hunkered on the floor in front of it, cat squishing her way between us, chasing tiny pixelated folks in tiny pixelated go karts. It was like this for a while, I remember. But of course, one day he had to go back home to Gramma & Grampa’s place back in New York.
I hadn’t thought of the broken white basket full of books in a while. Uncle was packing things up again, and only had a few books in his hand; the elf guy ones — Forgotten Realms, and two really beat up looking ones. One, The Silmarillion, had a really torn dust jacket and a few pieces of index cards sticking out of the top. It was dusty. The other didn’t have a front cover, but I adored the green and blue forest art on the back. He handed me the two worn out books, adjusting the small stack of the other ones under his arm.
“These are for you, Kathleen,” he said, “one day, you’ll read them and they’ll be important.“
“A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
I, of course, held him to his word. The front-cover-less book was none other than J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I didn’t know at the time that the entire basket of books was now mine, save the ones he read during his visit. I also didn’t know how absolutely true his words would be to me. All I knew is that I had two books I had never seen before, and I was going to read them.
Being a child, I tried to read the book with a cover first. My mind must have tried to equate wholeness to goodness. I, of course, was really confused by The Silmarillion, a book also written by Tolkien. I read it anyway, not understanding a thing, and put it back on my shelf. If I liked a book, I would talk to my parents about it. Probably ceaselessly. This book became a quiet acknowledgement of skill — or lack thereof — in reading, and my young mind vowed to return to it again in 3rd grade. (It really wasn’t until Sophomore year in College that I read it again and fell absolutely head-over-heels in love with the concepts therein.)
So next, I read The Hobbit. School was just about to start, and I didn’t even care anymore. Previously, school had been my favorite thing. Now, this book took first place. I wanted to babble from rooftops about Bilbo Baggins and the Ring. My favorite thing was the riddles, you see, right after the willow tree ate the dwarves. I got a lot of “That’s wonderful”s and “how nice”s from the parental units, I’m sure. I had a stack of computer printer paper given to me by Gramma once upon a time. I remember peeling off an obscene amount of crayon scribbled pages and leaving them in a heap on the floor. This paper was the kind all still attached. I had a few pages left, and on them I wrote. This was the first time I remember that absolute need to write that still stays with me to this day. I remember wanting so badly to write like Tolkien that I struggled to pick which of my classmates I had to include to make 13. I was always the Wizard; magic was my job. Every other “character” followed me.
“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
I have fought through so many things to be sitting here today writing this memory out. My path shifted so many times, but my bookish, nerdy self still remained in a Middle-Earth dream world. When my love was Marine life, I had two books open and going always — one fantasy fiction, and the other was something by National Geographic. When I thought my life’s work was art, my senior painting project was a giant map of Middle Earth to be hung in the creative writing wing of my school. When I thought all was lost and I was to remain a grocery store cashier for the rest of my life, The Lord of the Rings was the first book I picked up when I began to feel like myself again. In college, as a Creative Writing Major, my favorite non-core class was English 395 — Specialized Studies: Tolkien. Two unrelated and vastly different people proclaiming metaphysical and psychic talent told me I am his reincarnation. I don’t place much stock in this, to be fair — but both times I did briefly consider believing. I may never write like Professor Tolkien. But he is my hero, and will always be.
A dog tag sits on Tolkien’s Grave which simply says, “Thank You.”
“Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings