From my back seat perch that summer of 1970, I read. And read. And read. I just could not put LOTR down --- to the strange annoyance of my parents, who couldn’t understand why I wasn’t looking out at the endless forested vistas as we drove (ah, the simplicity of life back in the Dark Ages before cell phones and in-car DVD players). Actually, I WAS looking at those trees and mountains every once in a while. They provided great atmosphere, like the rainforests in our campgrounds each night as I sat by the campfire’s vermillion glow and read some more. I could look up from my book and gaze around, and it wasn’t much of a stretch to believe I was in the Old Forest or Mirkwood or Fangorn. That’s how it started.
(I also bought the little wooden figure pictured in the accompanying photograph while on the Olympic peninsula, and named him Thorin Oakenshield in honour of... well, you know who he was named for. Granted, he doesn’t much resemble Richard Armitage, but in my defence, my little wooden guy has been playing the role for much longer.)
(And I guess, since we went all around the Olympic peninsula that summer, that we must also have driven through Forks. But it had not yet achieved its literary notoriety, and I have absolutely no recollection of it. Was probably too busy being in Lothlorien, anyway. Thank goodness.)
From that initial exposure to Middle Earth, it really wasn’t too much of a stretch to want to write my own stories. I actually still have some of those early attempts still in my files. I take them out and look at them once in a while, peering back over a distance of more than 40 years, and I smile. It’s a smile of wistful nostalgia, not scorn, because even in those embryonic efforts, the desire to create something powerful and believable and wonderful is clearly evident. I think that’s how it often is with creativity: coming across something that we fall in love with, we want to create our own versions of it. We desire more. Now, my Arrinor is not Middle Earth (either Tolkien’s or Jackson’s version). Let’s be perfectly clear about that. There are a few similarities, but a lot of fundamental differences. There’s a big difference between being inspired by something and merely doing slavish imitation.
But it’s ultimately as C.S. Lewis has said, and I’ll leave you for now with his words: “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
God bless you, Jack. Because I have certainly tried to tell the truth in the story of Rhiss and his Arrinor.