On reading Tolkien

Jessica and I are reading the Lord of the Rings series. A couple of months ago, looking for something to do on a weekend, I asked if she would like to watch the movies.

“I do not know,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “How about we watch the first one and if you don’t like it, we stop.”

“That is good. I will try to like it.”

So we watched The Fellowship of the Ring, and she loved it and we had to watch the other two and then we had to order the books, including The Hobbit. There was no movie of The Hobbit then, and so she had a little bit of trouble following along with all of the action and asked exhaustive questions. (“Reading is like a movie, only better, because we can talk as much as we want!” she said.)

I tried to say, “I don’t know” a time or two, but it quickly became clear that this was an unacceptable answer, and we would have to look it up on the computer anyway, so as you can imagine by the time we got through with that book, knowing we had about 1200 more pages to go in the series, I was sort of wondering why I thought introducing her to Tolkien was such a good idea.

We brought Tolkien with us on our trip to D.C., and read him every night, Jessica riveted on every word and discussing everyone’s motivations and actions and words. “What does alas mean?” and “Why did his eyes fall on the floor? I do not understand how they got out of his head.”

On our third day, we are walking on the National Mall. It rained the night before, and on the right side of the mall there are no puddles, but on the left there are many, something to do with how the area is graded, I suppose.

“If we walk on the right side, we can avoid the puddles,” I say to her.

“No,” Jessica says positively. “No, I will show you the way through.”

She takes my hand and bends over the green, placing her steps carefully around each puddle, leading me through an unnecessary labyrinth and suddenly I know exactly what she is doing.

“This is like Frodo,” I say. “In the marshes outside Mordor.”

She gives me her smile and picks her way across, gripping my hand in hers. She is a hobbit, bearing a terrible burden, but she will be strong enough to see it through; she is the chosen one, though she never asked to be the ring-bearer.

This, I think. This is why I read Tolkien aloud to her every night, and answer every question. This is why I read every overwrought sentence, every purple passage, every confusing battle scene, every single one of the fifteen hundred pages. This is why.

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