Listening to: The Return of the King – Howard Shore (The Return of the King)
Greetings, fellow denizens of the Internet! After some light urging from my lovely girlfriend, I’ve decided to begin keeping a chronicle of my miscellaneous thoughts on subjects from music and movies to books and video games. The site title refers to my hope that, no matter who you are, you will occasionally find one of the posts I make to be a worthwhile and enjoyable read, regardless of how obnoxiously extensive my vocabulary may be.
Spoilers for The Lord of the Rings follow, but I should hope that doesn’t present a problem. If you haven’t read them yet, drop everything and do so before reading the remainder of this post. (You monster.)
As it turns out, this week’s topic is worthwhile and enjoyable reading. I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I learned how it was done, and over the years there have been a few books that never seem to tire me, no matter how often I come back to them. I’ve read through The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit more times than I can count; enough that I can likely recite whole sections of them with minimal errors. One of my fondest childhood memories is my dad reading sections of them to my sister and I every night before bed. Not knowing where the story was going next was an exhilarating, giddy feeling. I remember being shocked and dismayed when Boromir’s lust for the Ring overtook his loyalty to the Fellowship, overjoyed when Gandalf came back from the dead to “complete his task”, and so tense during Frodo and Sam’s passage of the Dead Marshes that we had to stop reading and move on to a different, less frightening book.
I was all of six at the time.
Two years later, I would take our copy of The Two Towers off of the high shelf that it had been sitting on, dust off the cover, pull out the bookmark, and continue reading. After I finished The Two Towers, I moved on to The Return of the King. Then, abruptly realizing that I had forgotten how the characters had gotten to where they were in the first place, I did an abrupt about-turn and headed back to The Hobbit to experience the entire series once again, as if for the first time; then for the second, third, and fourth time. By the time that I saw The Return of the King in theaters on my 10th birthday, I had probably read all of Tolkien’s core works eight or nine times.
A desire to remember what happened is the most basic reason to re-read a book, though unfortunately my memory gives me little occasion to do so. I’ve idly mused on several occasions how nice it would be if there was some sort of device that allowed selective amnesia, allowing you to experience your favorite works with a fresh perspective, while being able to retain your previous viewpoints of the work to keep back for later. (“Experiencing them for the first time” doesn’t work as well in this situation, since it is, technically, inaccurate.) I’ve concluded that such a device is, in fact, theoretically impossible, since the human memory isn’t as tangible as, say, files on a hard drive. Deleting certain memories would be an all but impossible task. Contrary to what most modern fiction portrays, amnesia isn’t very precise or simple. Technobabble translation: Brains are hard to do.
Of course, there are numerous other reasons to re-read books. Take The Lord of the Rings as an example once again. To the six-year-old child that first listened to his father reading before bed, it was an exciting fantasy-story, a catalyst for dreams of adventure. To the slightly more worldly and sophisticated eight-year-old that scaled the bookshelf to retrieve a book, it was both a loose end (much like Gandalf’s incomplete task) and a chance to experience a story that Dad had assured me was very much worth my while. To the ten-year-old getting ready to see the story on the big screen, it was a familiar friend; to the twelve-year-old aspiring to be a writer, an excellent study in what the truly gifted could do with words. As my view broadened and I read peripheral works such as The Silmarillion and The Histories of Middle-earth, each subsequent reading brought new things to light, and deepened my appreciating of the work as a whole. Trivium: Strider was originally “Trotter,” a hobbit with wooden feet. Imagine Viggo Mortensen in that role.
The appendices, which had been little more than an afterthought to my younger self, utterly fascinated me during my middle- and high-school years, and I spent hours absorbed in them appreciating details both large–such as the painstakingly accurate Elvish syntax and grammar–and small–such as the offhand mention of the phases of the moon over the course of the Fellowship’s journey. It’s things like that that make a book re-reading: with each step you take, there’s no telling where you’ll be swept off to.
Our family’s original hardcover copies of the Lord of the Rings books have practically disintegrated by now, having gone through the hands of not one or two but four children, with a fifth only recently through her first Daddy-daughter reading of them. Entire chapters have fallen out only to be carefully replaced, and the familiar symbol of the Ring of Power on the front cover has almost faded away. That, in itself, is a testament to a book worth re-reading.