"I rather fancy it's Shakespeare--or, if not, it's some equally brainy lad--who says that it's always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping."

- P.G. Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves
"Ringing" through the years



Today I was reminded, for some reason, of my first introduction to The Lord of the Rings. The image above is the same edition I got, back around 1966 (the publication page says that was the year of the printing). I would have been about 16 years old at the time. The trilogy was offered by Scholastic Books, a major force in my life in those days. There was no bookstore within practical distance of my home. I had never been in a bookstore in my life – bookstores were distant Rivendell to me. So those periodic (Monthly? Quarterly? I don’t remember) Scholastic catalogs were to me what the wandering peddler was to my ancestors.

I’d never heard of The Lord of the Rings or Tolkien in my life (I knew C. S. Lewis, but had no “inkling” of his friendship with Tolkien). The catalog descriptions were intriguing. But the books cost ninety-five cents apiece – more than three bucks for the trilogy with postage figured in. That was not the kind of money I spent casually in those days. Fortunately I mentioned the books to my brother, and he was interested too. So we went in together. The only drawback was that he demanded first dibs. I had to wait for him to finish The Fellowship of the Ring before I got my chance at it. I chafed as he worked through the long book, saying things like, “This is really good. You’ll like this a lot.”

At last I got my turn and opened the pages onto a whole new world. It was better than I hoped (Lewis himself described it as “good beyond hope”) and gave me satisfactions I’d never known a book could offer.

I still have all three books in those original editions. They’re not actually falling apart (I’ve always been pretty gentle with my books), but they’re so battered that I replaced them with a new set a few years back, for actual reading. These copies are personal relics. When I touch them as I do now (the Fellowship is at my elbow as I write) it brings me back to a moment in my life when new possibilities opened up. And believe me, I needed new possibilities just then.

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Comments on ""Ringing" through the years":
1. Queen of Carrots - 01/07/2013 7:13 pm EST

This makes me a little sad, because we used to have that exact same copy--I think my dad got it when he was young--and no other copy since is quite the same, even though we now have a lovely hardback. Those got tossed out in an excess of fundamentalism a couple of decades ago and I have always regretted it. Of course, if we had kept them, I am sure they would be fallen apart by now, as my siblings and I were murder on books.

2. Dale Nelson - 01/07/2013 7:15 pm EST

Reminiscences like this one are always good reading. We discovered The Hobbit and LOTR at about the same time. A public library display, with Barbara Remington's poster-map, caught my eye. I couldn't have known what a significant experience was about to begin, that day when I walked into the Coos Bay library.

Reading these books was not just a matter of excitement but of getting to know the Good better.

3. Hollins - 01/07/2013 8:20 pm EST

I read LOTR the first time when I was in college and have read the series at least three more times since then - a claim I cannot make about any other work of fiction. I remember thinking that the Fellowship of the Ring started a little slowly but once I got past Tom Bombadil there was no stopping me.

4. Phil - 01/07/2013 9:01 pm EST

Here's a scan of my original set. I still have all but The Hobbit, which I lost in a bathroom at high school, I think. I read them aloud to my wife several years ago. That feels so long ago now.

5. Respectabiggle - 01/08/2013 10:36 am EST

I came to the LOTR completely backwards.

For Christmas, 1978, Dad bought me the boxed set of Basic Dungeons and Dragons, and I was immediately hooked. (I was nine.)

A couple of years later, a friend who was a library aide at our middle school said, "We have a videocassette of this thing that's like D&D!" That, of course, was the Rankin/Bass version of Return of The King.

At the end, I saw that the movie was adapted from a book. I said to myself, "I wonder if that's any good?"

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