The other morning I stopped at the deli counter of my local market. As I was placing my order with one person, another suddenly began speaking to me rather passionately, telling me how much she loved the shirt I was wearing. Since most of me is often submerged in my own thoughts, it took a moment to realize that the ardent voice I heard was addressing me and not someone else. I am also not accustomed to anyone getting this enthusiastic about my clothing.
As it was, this young woman was admiring my t-shirt -- black with (for a t-shirt) a rather subtle rendering in a chalky red and gray of Smaug and the Lonely Mountain from The Hobbit -- and saying that the trailer for the third part of Peter Jackson's adaptation looked pretty cool. I agreed about the trailer and thanked her for the compliment. She was very kind and warm and spontaneous; and chance meetings (as we call them in Middle-earth) with strangers who share your interests are always welcome.
But from a certain perspective this meeting of ours was not entirely by chance. It had been arranged for us before ever we were born, on 29 July 1954, the day The Fellowship of the Ring was first published. At that time no one foresaw the eventual success of The Lord of the Rings. Quite the contrary in fact. The publisher thought he might be about to lose a lot of money, but considered the book a work of genius, which merited publication regardless of the risk. And to be sure, if The Lord of the Rings had been the failure the publisher feared, there would have been no published Silmarillion, no Unfinished Tales, no History of Middle-earth, no movies, no trailers, no t-shirts, and no chance meeting with which to pass a friendly moment.
Of course the publication merely set the stage. For everyone who responds passionately to a work must find something in it that corresponds to something in themselves. What the work offers, and what the reader needs, must answer each other. This most often happens in the short term. A book, a movie, a tv show becomes popular for a time. Interest burns white hot. Then it's gone.
Other works possess a more enduring interest. For most of my life The Lord of the Rings has been popular, though never so much as in the years since the first of Peter Jackson's movies appeared. For me the work has held my interest since I first encountered it at the age of eleven. <!-- copyright thomas patrick hillman 2014 --> Then it was the adventure, the heroism, the mythic vision of a whole world that Tolkien had so clearly in view even if the legendary past of Middle-earth was -- for us in the days before The Silmarillion was published -- no more than echoes in song and mountain peaks rising from beyond a veiled horizon. As I've grown older, I've learned to see far more than that in terms of style, and characterization, and description, and themes, and the way he weaves them all together to advance the whole Tale. Always, though, the tone of 'elegiac retrospect' that permeates almost all of Tolkien's work has found in me a sympathetic reader.
So, since I enjoy reading and discussing Tolkien so much, I've decided to try something out. I will soon begin posting on this page some of my observations about The Lord of the Rings. But to help organize them and make them easier to find as their numbers grow I've created one page for each of the six books of The Lord of the Rings, where I'll have links and very brief summary of each post. Since I've been looking at the later books rather a lot lately, posts about these will be the first to appear. In time, however, I will be posting notes on every part of the Tale.
And perhaps these will lead to more chance meetings.
'Elegiac retrospect' is a wonderful term Tolkien coined (as far as I can tell) in his commentary on Beowulf to describe, in Edith Wharton's phrase, 'the poignancy of vanished things.'