We are living in interesting times. Whatever your take on current events, however much or little the global turmoil and tumults have affected you personally, it is likely you feel at the least a bit of consternation, perhaps even pique. My day-to-day existence has altered little. I’ve been driving to the office, the same as usual. It is startlingly quiet there, but that doesn’t bother me. And now that I am able to once again go the gym and take my family out to restaurants, my life is largely back to normal. But even so, I experience moments of discontent, a Truman-Show style notion that something is not quite right.
January rolled around again and with it came another opportunity to celebrate the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien at the Kennedy School. The event added a new wrinkle this year with a room dedicated to Lord of the Rings tabletop games. I hadn’t realized there were so many of them. I’d be tempted to give the game room a shot next year if unaccompanied. However I’m rather certain the HA wouldn’t have the patience for it.
MBW, the HA, and I drove out to the Columbia River Gorge yesterday and embarked on a paddlewheel sightseeing excursion upriver. The sky offered better visibility than it had most of the previous month: about this time every year everything west of the Rockies bursts into flame. Smoke obscures the views. Yesterday wasn’t bad. The river breeze was nice.
Opinion time, readers. What is your preference, or perhaps tolerance, for the amount of description of places, things, physical appearance, etc. in fiction? Do you like to have an exacting rundown of what the characters look like, what the furniture in a room looks like and how it is arranged, and what everyone is wearing? Or do you tend to skip the descriptive paragraphs and scan down the page until the action recommences?
I’m going to continue with the theme from last week, celebrating the birthday of the late, great J.R.R. Tolkien. Yesterday the family and I met some friends at the Kennedy School to take part in the annual Tolkien Birthday Bash festivities. For those of you who don’t know about the Kennedy School allow me a few lines to explain. The Kennedy School was, as the name suggest, a school. The McMenamin brothers, the dark overlords of a brewpub empire sprawling throughout the Pacific Northwest, purchased the defunct property and turned it into a hotel, brewery, restaurant, and theater. In addition to being able to belly up for a drink at the restaurant and outside the theater doors, you can get a pint at other locations in the school which the McMenamins converted into bars: You can buy a beer (and smoke a cigar) in Detention, have a cocktail in the Honors Bar, drink in the Boiler Room downstairs, etc. Every year in January the Kennedy School throws an all day party to commemorate Tolkien’s birthday. They run all three of the “Lord of the Rings” films in the theater. In the gymnasium (where you can also buy a beer) a radio troupe performs snippets of scenes from “The Hobbit.”
That ought to give you an idea. Many people arrive in costume. In fact the event includes a costume contest. You can see children as young as three or four dressed as hobbits, or ents, or elves.
And that, I think, is amazing. I was considering that while ordering off the special Tolkien themed menu (I ordered Mrs. Maggot’s Shepherd’s Pie – excellent, though oddly shy of mushrooms.) Every year parents bring in their children to share their love of the Professor’s creation. And a new generation grows to appreciate it. What a legacy, an ever expanding legacy. So many authors produce a lauded work that fades from the popular imagination after a year or a decade. Some may endure in the memory of a generation. But only a signal few influence and entertain generation after generation, inspiring movies, celebrations of the author’s birth, art, costuming, imitations, games, etc. Alexandre Dumas, perhaps. Arthur Conan Doyle. A few others.
What would Tolkien think of this? Would he despair at this ‘deplorable cultus,’ disturbed by the commercialization, the films, toys, games, and merchandise? Would he consider it a form of idolatry? Or would he appreciate the fact that others take pleasure in the very thing he did when it was little more than a personal plaything, an imaginary history in which to set his invented languages?
Who can say? What I can say is that I will endeavor to pass along my enthusiasm for Middle-earth to the next generation. Maybe she’ll like it. Maybe she won’t. I won’t push it. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
And maybe I’ll see you at the Kennedy School for next year’s celebration.
How deeply do you become involved in a story? Are you an outcome based reader? That is, do you read a story only to find out what happens, whodunit, how the plot resolves? Or do you plunge completely into the fictional world? Do you laugh aloud at the jokes and unexpected twists? Do characters become so real to you that you mourn if they die or suffer loss? Do you set the book down and stare blankly at the wall as you absorb the news of a tragedy that’s befallen, imagining the reactions of the characters and the repercussions on the society?
Ever thrown the book across the room?
So, that’s it for summer then. The first storm of autumn is rolling in from the Pacific, hammering the trees with wind gusts and dumping the contents of a few medium-size rivers onto Portland.
Perfect reading weather.
OK, it is always perfect reading weather, but humor me. Does reading get more pleasant than being curled on the couch before a fire, a warm mug of tea at your elbow and a book in hand? Rain may lash at the windows and drum on the roof, but when you are absorbed in a book the inclement weather either adds to the atmospherics or passes without notice.