Summer Reading Challenge….eeeyeahhh. I’ve gotten a little sidetracked, but in my mind the other books were always considered addendums not substitutions, and there were certainly good reasons to read them. This week I got back to my SRC list and started The Tolkien Reader. I was given a very nice bonus. A bonus as in an unexpected gift.
[aside for a rant: I work one afternoon/week in a pharmacy as an accountant. I get sooo annoyed when employees approach me in a buzzard-like way wanting to know exactly when the Christmas bonus will come. A bonus is not an entitlement. Really.]
As I read Tolkien’s essay On Fairy-Stories, I realized I should have read this before I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. It was impossible for me to keep characters in their right category because none of categories made sense to me. I remember asking our Latin class what an elf was. They all knew. My youngest son, who was practically a Tolkien scholar by age nine, was very patient with his mom. “Now what is Aragorn, again? Is he a man or one of those other…things?”
The first bonus last night was the sense that I was actually doing some very helpful teacher preparation for studying medieval literature this year. Tolkien made many references to Beowulf, Chaucer, Spenser and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. There are many reasons to read a book (entertainment, education, pleasure, information, curiosity, because someone knows you are a reader and pressed a book in your hand begging you to read it) but when those reasons intersect it is truly a blessing. I didn’t choose The Tolkien Reader because it would help me teach; I chose it because it was an unread book on my bookshelf.
The second bonus: a question I had 10 years ago was answered. Readers often come across references that are meaningless on first reading, and just skip over them. About ten years ago as I was reading through Charlotte Mason’s The Original Home Schooling Series, she mentioned Queen Mab in such a way that assumed the reader would “get it”. I didn’t — and didn’t have Google at my fingertips. My set of World Books didn’t help and so the reference was a dangling loose end in my brain. Tolkien spends half a page explaining why Michael Drayton’s Nymphidia, the story about Queen Mab, isn’t a true fairy-story. It was a gift to read, recognize and to finally understand.
The third bonus? A chance to read an excellent writer with an excellent mind.