- W.H. Auden, A Certain World
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.