The Day I Discovered Tolkien

Extollager

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This thread is intended to be a place for you to tell, as well as you can remember, when, where, and how it was that you discovered the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. If you first saw the movies, mention that, but what we want is to hear about you getting into Tolkien's books.

For me, life with Tolkien's books began in late 1966 or very early 1967. I was 11 years old and already a public library haunter. Here's where I went: the new Coos Bay, Oregon, public library. It looked like this:

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I ventured into the adult section of the library and my eyes were caught by a display or Tolkien paperbacks beneath one or both of the Ballantine posters. I might have seen this map:

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...or this poster:

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… or both. But I think it was the map. Anyway, I looked at the books. They seemed sort of science-fictiony to me. I checked out The Hobbit. Probably that copy did not have the famous lion who was removed after Tolkien objected.

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I loved those Tolkien books as I'd never loved any book before. They connected with an interest I'm quite sure I already had in Norse mythology and folklore (trolls!). They were, I am sure, to help me to enjoy the beautiful ferny woods of Coos Bay as I grew.
 

M. Robert Gibson

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How on earth do you remember these details? I have difficulty remembering what I had for dinner last night :(

Anyway, I was quite a latecomer to Tolkien. I'd read some classic science-fiction in my early teens - The Time Machine, War of The Worlds etc - but I was about 17 or 18 when a friend introduced me to fantasy via Michael Moorcock and Robert E. Howard, and, of course, JRR. And I was hooked.

I can't remember for sure, but I imagine I started with the Hobbit, then the Rings and even the Silmarillion. A sequence I repeat every four or five years. And one which it appears is overdue.

Edit
I should have mentioned this was 1979/80
 
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Cathbad

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Before 1979, I thought Fantasy was for children, and assumed I wouldn't like it. The genres I loved were Mystery and Horror.

Then I found a copy of LOTR. The cover was more than just appealing, so I read it.

I now consider myself, first and foremost, a fantasy author.
 

HareBrain

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I was nine or ten, and pulled The Hobbit off the school bookshelf, I think at random. I was bored and baffled by the end of the first page and put it aside. Just before I was due to hand it back, a remark by a friend made me decide to give it another go. I raced through it on a drive somewhere, absolutely riveted. Thanks Tim!
 

The Big Peat

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I would have been 7 or 8 when my parents read The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story; after that, I found my father's copies of Lord of the Rings and read them myself.
 

Extollager

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Before 1979, I thought Fantasy was for children, and assumed I wouldn't like it. The genres I loved were Mystery and Horror.

Then I found a copy of LOTR. The cover was more than just appealing, so I read it.

I now consider myself, first and foremost, a fantasy author.
Can you show us an image of which cover it was?
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I read a review of the books in Seventeen magazine and thought they sounded interesting. So one day after school when I stopped by the Co-Op market (a dingy, depressing place—but they sold books!) across the street to browse the spinning book racks at the front of the store before walking home, and saw the Ballentine edition of The Return of the King I snatched it up. The book cover did not appeal; I bought the book because of the review. They didn't have the other two books in the trilogy, though, and reading the synopsis at the front of the one I had after I got home (or more likely reading as I walked home) convinced me that I should read those first. And having read the synopsis I was very, very eager to do so! So after dinner my mother took me off to find the other two volumes that evening. It was too late to go looking for a bookstore (most US retail establishments closed at around 5 o'clock back then) so we went to two or three drug stores in the vicinity. My parents were very sympathetic to my reading habit, bless them. We did find and buy The Two Towers, but of course that still left me unable to start reading the series, which was frustrating.

In the morning, before I left for school, my mother promised to call all the bookstores in the area and find out if one of them had The Fellowship of the Ring. She promised to pick me up after school so we could go get the book if she was successful. She did find a shop that had it, tucked into the same shopping center as the Co-Op market. (It looked like a toy store from the outside, so I'd never been in. If I had known they sold books, too, I probably would have gone there instead of the market in the first place and saved us the frantic search.) I It was the Ace edition, so didn't match the other two books that I had, but much I cared about having a matched set—I was ready to read those books as soon as I could! Which I began to do as soon as we reached home. So that was the next few days devoted to reading The Lord of the Rings after school and in bed when I should have been sleeping, and probably every moment I could snatch during classes.

I don't know if I would remember all these details if it wasn't for finding the books in reverse order and all the searching we had to do as a result. Although maybe I would, because reading the trilogy was such a remarkable experience and changed my future so profoundly.

It was some months later before I happened to see The Hobbit on display in the book department in one of the big discount department stores and of course bought it at once.
 

Extollager

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How on earth do you remember these details?
How does it happen that I remember book-discovery details?

My mother (+2016) urged me, from when I was a boy, to mark the date of my creative works. At the age when I discovered Tolkien, I was an industrious maker of home-made comic books and other books, because I loved real comics and some books so much already. Mom was a very tidy person but was not one of those get-into-your-stuff-when-you're-at-school-and-throw-it-out moms. Thus, my home-made comics and books survived. And some of the ones that survive from 1967-1968 and beyond bear traces of Tolkien, e.g. I stole the name Drogo for one of my own characters. Thus I can infer confidently that I had some real acquaintanceship with Tolkien by the time I made such things, and they are dated.

And then, starting in late 1969, I became aware of fandom and fanzines. As a fan, I occasionally wrote reminiscences of early reading. Eleven years old can seem like a long time ago to (say) 19, but it's a lot longer ago when you're in your 60s. Happily, I wrote some reminiscences while I was still quite young.

Another thing that sometimes helps is that I began, in my teens, to draw hatch marks inside the covers of books I'd read, to record how many readings I'd done. (See image below from a copy of The Return of the King.) I stopped doing that a long time ago, but I've kept some of my oldest books, and so when I went on to a more formal record of my reading, that helped. (I've kept a log of all the books I have read since Jan. 1974, and around the time that I started that list, I also wrote down a lot that I remembered about my previous reading.)

And finally, the Tolkien discovery really was an event in my imaginative life. It's possible that I have misremembered the poster and books, but I don't think so.

tolk.JPG
 

Extollager

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Teresa, your account is wonderful -- and how excellent your mom was!
 

Cathbad

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Can you show us an image of which cover it was?
I'm looking at several published around that time, and the one thing I'm now sure of... is that I can't recall. I've read and seen so many covers over the years! (Including most of the ones I just looked at!)

I do recall purchasing this edition at Walden's (Definitely not my first one):

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pyan

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It would be about 1967, and I was at school, talking to a friend in a corridor which led to the Common Room of the god-like beings that comprised the Upper Sixth.
I was enthusing to my friend about The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel The Moon of Gomrath (both by Alan Garner and well worth the read), and a passing god-like sixth-former overheard me. He stopped and said (approximately) "If you think Garner is good, you should try J.R.R. Tolkien". After recovering from the shock of being actually spoken to by a sixth-former, let alone in a kindly and interested manner, I got FotR out of the school library, and was hooked for life...
 

Venusian Broon

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I came across the book when I was around about 8, so that would make it around about 1979. It was my dad's copy and it's my version book cover. It gets the vastness of world, the fellowship as small stick figures in the foreground and an impossible vista of countryside leading up to the peaks of mountains. And in the corners, in the dark, Gollum and other horrible creatures scurry about in the darkness:

tolkien-LOTR-cover-2.jpg


I tried to read it then, I think, but I failed and gave up. So it was until I was 11 that I tried it again and finished it. Hence the cover is important!

I have this version of the cover for my copy of the book:

tolkien-LOTR-cover-3.jpg


It's good...but just not the same.
 

Extollager

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Carthbad, that's the cover of the Allen and Unwin one-volume paperback edition (which omits most of the appendices() -- a beautiful wraparound design by the great Pauline Baynes, and one that provides one of my all-time favorite Tolkienian art images. Her approach is very well suited to Tolkien, conveying the spaciousness of Middle-earth (literally and figuratively), and eschewing undue specifics about the appearance of the characters. I have often pored over the portion of her design that was used for the Caedmon LP of Tolkien reading.

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I first saw the Tolkien LP around 1970, I think at a music store in downtown Medford, Oregon. Hearing Tolkien's voice meant a lot to me. He reads his poems very well.
 

M. Robert Gibson

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Another thing that sometimes helps is that I began, in my teens, to draw hatch marks inside the covers of books I'd read, to record how many readings I'd done. (See image below from a copy of The Return of the King.) I stopped doing that a long time ago, but I've kept some of my oldest books, and so when I went on to a more formal record of my reading, that helped. (I've kept a log of all the books I have read since Jan. 1974, and around the time that I started that list, I also wrote down a lot that I remembered about my previous reading.)
For the last 25 years or so I've been writing the date I finished a book on the inside back cover.
Invaluable for updating my Goodreads read list.
 
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