Round about 1993, I went on a ski trip as part of my local scout troop. We when to the Czech republic, and had a really amazing time. I was about 13 at the time.
The older members of this troop, guys in their early twenties, one night organized a game on one of the mountains, amungst trees and deep snow. I cant remember what they called it exactly, but it was a simple role-playing game involving Orcs, Elves, Dwarfs, Men, and a curious folk of tiny people they called Hobbits.
I honestly cant recall what race or character I got to play, and what exactly the rules where. I do however recall that I was fascinated by the depth of detail with which they spoke of this world, and how a set of books could be the basis for something one could get so passionate about to create a role-playing game with. I now of course understand these guys where obviously LARPers, and obviously big Tolkien fans.
The concept of “fan-dom” was not alien to me however. I was at the time, a huge “trekkie” and had even brought, as I recall, the Deep Space Nine technical manual with me on the ski trip. It was, however, the first time I realized that there where other worlds around, that people could get as passionate about, as i was about Star Trek.
This was also not the first time I had heard of Tolkien, Middle-earth or Lord of the Rings. Through my Star Trek fan-dom, I had, in fact, already come across a curious song, written and recorded by Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock on Star Trek. Nimoy has recorded a number of albums in the 1970’s, and amongst those, a curious song called The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. I remember seeing a clip of the music video of this song on one Star Trek documentary program, and being completely embarrassed about it. It was complete camp. Here is a Youtube version if you really want to see. I can not watch the dancing girls for more than 5 seconds before my brain shuts down.
Anyway, moving in geek-circles, especially later on the internet, one could not help but come across Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. I became aware of what it was, and that it was considered more or less compulsory reading for any serious fantasy fan or geek.
Despite this, I never really got into it.
Around about 2000, my mother bought the Silmarillion. The 1998 edition with art by Ted Nasmith.
This was probably due to the first Peter Jackson movie stirring up the first media hype.
It was only then I realized my mother also had Lord of the Rings, a 1980 single-book printing.
I cant remember the exact sequence of events, but I ended up buying my own 7-volume 1999 HarperCollins version of it, and the 1998 Collins printing of The Hobbit
I thought it first useful to start reading the Silmarillion, to understand some of back-story before I got into the other material proper. This was a mistake. The Silmarillion is proper literature from the beginning of the last century, and for someone who had hardly read anything yet, starting there proved to be a bit of a burden. I remember saying that getting through it was about as hard as understanding the bible properly.
I switched gears and read The Hobbit and then proceeded to start on the Lord of the Rings some time later. By this time, the first Jackson movie had already been released, as i remember quite well I was so surprised at the difference in length in the “Council of Elrond” scene. But for some reason, I gave up not long after they set off from Rivendell. I never got back to it.
I have always regretted this. Its been a serious bad mark on my geek-credibility that I am not more versed in Tolkien. The amount of in-jokes alone that you miss online and in games that reference Middle-earth.
Fast-forward to now. I am a huge fan of the movies, and own the three 4-disk extended editions, the soundtracks, etc. During my recent move, where I was forced to pack up all my books, I came across my Lord of the Rings again, which had been sitting for several years on a Shelf in my lodgers room.
Of late, being out of work, I found myself without much to do. Also, I have recently resolved myself to start getting into some serious classical literature. So going back and finally actually reading Lord of the Rings seemed like a good place to start.
My mothers 1972 version is pretty much coming apart now, and this past weekend I went and retrieved the 7-book set that was now in storage at my dads in Belgium.
As of this writing, I am about halfway into “Return of the King”, so almost done.
Completely coincidentally, my mother returned from the UK recently with The Children of Hurin, the hardcover version illustrated by Alan Lee.
I have resolved to finally take the plunge, and really familiarize myself with Middle-earth at large. The last few weeks I have slowly been coming to grips with the vast amount of Middle-earth material out there. Last night, I purchased a large amount of books, that more or less comes up to a complete Middle-earth collection.
First of all, my mother expressed the wish to have a boxed-set containing the 3 Lord of the Rings books, but including the Hobbit. There are several versions out there, but they are not common. I chose the 1999 released 4-book boxed hardcover set by HarperCollins, ISBN 0007105029, featuring illustrations by Alan Lee
To complete my own collection, I knew I needed the complete 12-volume collection “The History of Middle Earth”. This consists of the following books:
1. The Book of Lost Tales 1 (1983)
2. The Book of Lost Tales 2 (1984)
3. The Lays of Beleriand (1985)
4. The Shaping of Middle-earth (1986)
5. The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987)
6. The Return of the Shadow (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.1) (1988)
7. The Treason of Isengard (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.2) (1989)
8. The War of the Ring (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.3) (1990)
9. Sauron Defeated (includes The History of The Lord of the Rings v.4) (1992)
10. Morgoth’s Ring (The Later Silmarillion v.1) (1993)
11. The War of the Jewels (The Later Silmarillion v.2) (1994)
12. The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996)
The History of Middle-earth: Index (2002).
There are fewer versions of this to choose from, and amongst those for sale, are the wonderful 3-volume collectors edition tomes, but more or less unaffordable, at around 500 pounds each.
I went for basically the same 3 books, but the non-collectors edition versions of the same publication.
The Complete History of Middle-Earth: Part1
Contains the first 5 volumes
The Complete History of Middle-Earth: Part 2
Contains the volumes 6 though 9
The Complete History of Middle-Earth: Part 3
Contains the volumes 10 to 12
Not included in this set (i believe) is the Index to the books released in 2002
To round of the collection, I wanted a good color atlas of all the Middle-earth maps. Again there are several to choose from, I went with the 2002 Houghton Mifflin revised addition by Karen Fonstad. I would have preferred the hardcover edition, but it doesn’t appear to be available.
And finally, from a lore-perspective, one should have the The Unfinished Tales.
I ordered this paperback version because its contains the nicest cover.
Sometime in the future, I shall need to buy my own, proper, hardcover versions of the Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion and the Children of Hurin. I don’t yet know which version I shall get of those. I love the illustrated versions and anything with Alan Lee is pretty much a done deal for me. However, I may one day fork up the $dollar required for this limited edition box set, if it is still available at the time.
If I want to get that one, I will have to do it in the next year or sooner, as its a 500 volume run only, and I am surprised they are still selling it.
So, I hope with these purchases to have erased my shame in not having familiarized myself with Tolkien long ago 😉
I can, once I have actually read the stuff, and read it again, walk proudly amongst my fellow geek and share the occasional inside quote.