And so has the road gone, beneath my feet, as I've journeyed through my love for Tolkien's work, and all the forms it is taken, and incarnations in which it was expressed. It is worth remembering, for it has been long, and much has happened, and many memories, no matter how mundane or material, deserve to be remembered for themselves. Let this be, then, something of a record, a personal indulgence, for my own sake, like a scrapbook of words preserved in the great technological cloud of our era. Let this be a map and a chart of the road that has come down from my door, which I have pursued with eager feet indeed.
It began in my seventh year, when the months were drawing down into the monsoon, and minds were turning to Deepavali and Christmas afterwards. One drizzly evening, in the largest bookstore on the island of Singapore, my home, my mother put a book into my hands that would come to change me forever.
It sounds dramatic; it sounds clichéd. Whatever presumptions may try and dissuade you believing, however, it is the truth.
The book was called "The Hobbit", by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was the follow-up to a foray into classic British fantasy that had begun a year prior when she had bought me a copy of "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", by Tolkien's esteemed colleague and friend, C.S. Lewis (incidentally, also on a rainy monsoon night).
The book looked exactly like the one pictured to the left. With its warm colours, the gentle shape of Gandalf, and the enticing blurb, I was excited for a simple, diverting tale, told with imagination and the warm wisdom I'd grown fond of in Lewis' work. I got all this. I also got a lot more. There is a certain magic in that little volume that remains with me to this day.
Magic. Magic is found in rolling hills and wild woods, in dragons and adventures tramping through the country and grand mountain ranges, in wizards and hobbits and strange new worlds. What could a city kid know of this magic?
The city has its own kind of magic (one I shall write of in another entry). At night, at the end of the year, with the roads wet from the rains and the lights glittering blue, orange, and white in them, the red brake lights of the cars glowing, the golden windows of the skyscrapers glimmering, and the breeze cool, and drops of water touching your head and your bare skin - it is a night where anything is possible. To receive such a book on such a night - it was a recipe for a spell to be cast.
The book was devoured over a short span of time; I do not recall exactly how long now, but suffice to say, it was quick. It was followed by the slow acquisition of the 3 excellent Peter Jackson films, which I shall likely write about in future. They washed over me like the waters that drowned Númenor (though I did not yet know of such things). I was enraptured in music and theme, in powerful stories that brought tears to my eyes and an ache into my heart, in the performances of actors beyond compare or replacement. That's when I knew I had to go on and read the next and chiefest installation in the legendarium. I can never give those films enough credit for kicking my feet onto the great path of Tolkien's work. The spell was cast. The magic was begun in earnest, and the adventures were set to begin.
When the year ended and the new one began, we began the quest to obtain The Lord of the Rings in paperbacks of several different editions, sharing the books between myself and my mother, who was rereading them after a long time. The Fellowship of the Ring took 2 months, and completing 'The Council of Elrond' took up a large chunk of that time, but it was time well spent.
Whether it was that Christmas or the next, I do not recall, but I received a copy of the Silmarillion (erroneously believing it was the unfinished tales in the first moments of unwrapping). A beautiful book - but not the most accessible for a 9-year-old. More on it later. It sat in my shelf, swiftly joined by the Unfinished Tales. Both spines remained uncracked for a long while, as text after text came to knowledge and was sought after, whether they were works of his own or literature on his work. My mother bought me an introductory reader's guide to his work. We got copies of Roverandom and Tales from the Perilous Realm. My sister and I printed maps of Middle-earth and downloaded tengwar fonts onto our computer. My mother gifted me a little memento-version of the Ring that she saw in a shop.The bookshelf grew in decoration, the spaces around the treasured volumes adorned with objects and papers as they were collected. Shrine-like, the space became a vestige of magic when it seemed absent from all other places. And the most magical part of it was - and always shall be - that first volume of 'The Hobbit', now with all edges scuffed and the pages yellowed, smelling of that strange and thrilling musk of old pages and glue that is to be found in long-enduring libraries and volumes from older days.
2008 brought the next milestone on the road. Who would have thought The Lord of the Rings Symphony would tour to Singapore? Certainly, I did not. The choir I was in was young - only two years in existence - but they wanted us to sing. All our singing was in Elvish. I would bring in books with depictions of the elves to show the choir; my conductor (also my personal vocal coach of more than a decade now) knew what a nerd I was, and encouraged me to share tips on Elvish, and describe the scenes we were singing about, and soon everyone was under the spell and watching the films and borrowing copies of 'The Hobbit' from the library a few streets over.
Perhaps the biggest moment, the biggest honour, was the selection of soloists. Do you recall the first film, when Gandalf falls, fighting the Balrog? There is a high vocal solo in the soundtrack. I auditioned. I had no expectations. And then? Lo and behold, the recordings were sent to Howard Shore, and he selected me for the part. I have never, I think, screamed so loud, or felt my heart stop so suddenly, as at that moment. When the time came, on that stage, with the music of a celestial score in my ears, I sang those notes for the Professor.
The great freak-out, the time to grab your friends and shake them to make sure you were both still alive, came in 2012. When 'Fellowship of the Ring' had first hit theatres, I'd just turned four. No incentive to view it, nothing to remember.
Thus, the announcement that The Hobbit films were indeed to be a reality, that we would be able to see Middle-earth on the big screen in our lifetime, was an extraordinary feeling, was utterly out-of-this-world for my friends and I. Tickets to the midnight premiere proved to be highly unattainable, so we did the next best thing. The national newspaper was holding a costume competition, and we decided to just show up, have some fun, and go to a screening on the weekend. Little did we know what was in store.
I bought wood and paint and worked on Sting, found clothes and a wig, trimming hair off the latter and sewing it onto hosierysocks for the hairy feet. My friend made a hat from fabric and cardboard, found a stick by the reservoir behind her house, and ordered a cheap beard online, that we spent one fun afternoon straightening with hot water. When the fateful Wednesday evening rolled around, we donned our clothes, I lent her a plastic pipe I'd found, and my mother drove us to town. We got off a little before the building with the theatre - let us walk a bit on the streets, we thought, and people can be privy to our excitable nonsense. We did indeed get many compliments, and that only ramped up our excitement for the evenig. We arrived, entered our names in the costume competition, and then sat around, looking at all the other costumed individuals. We took photos in front of a cardboard hobbit hole standee; somebody interviewd us. Then, before you know it, we were called on stage, and asked questions to be responded to as our characters. 50% for the costume and 50% for our 'act', was the judges' rating. I got onstage, pretended to be Bilbo for three minutes, and then got off and waited. And then the announcements - and suddenly - "In second place, Sarah W-!"
It was a moment of shock. The two of us may have screamed. I scrambled up onstage and received the prize goodie-bag. There were many fine things to be had indeed, but the finest of all, the one that set our heads reeling, was a little slip with a time for that evening and a seat number and a theatre hall. We called our mothers - it was a schoolnight, and we were only 15 after all - and we got our chance without any resistance, and, in fact, much encouragement. That night, we saw Middle-earth bloom onto life onscreen, heard the eternal opening lines, 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit...". Shivers raced up our spines and tears sprang to our eyes when we revisited Imladris, the land we'd fallen in love with on page and screen, and could now experience in a theatre. It was a night of pure magic.
After that came the next foray into the musical realm of Tolkien, where I was accorded another humbling honour. The movie screening with live orchestra of The Fellowship of the Ring was touring to Singapore. We would have the chance to experience and sing the beloved and impeccable score once again. Then, my vocal teacher and conductress asked one important duty of me - teach the choir the Elvish text and regale them with a summary of the great tale. So I did. I researched, I studied, and I got to share my favourite world with so many other wonderful and passionate musicians. The show was a total success, and an honour to be part of. When The Two Towers came the next year, I would not be able to perform, having planned travel at the time - however, I was once again given the joyful duty of teaching Elvish to my dear friends, and we had many an evening of fun singing together. I was so happy to hear from them how well the show was - even better than the first, they said.
When the time came for me to leave the nest, and tramp off to Europe, to Norway, for adulthood, I did so with my copy of The Silmarillion clutched in my hand. I could not take all my beloved volumes with me, after all. And with that as my companion, I entered into a new part of Tolkien's world, one I had only glimpsed in the pages of his other works and in offhand references. Now I learned of the deep, rich, tragic history of Middle-earth, all the beauty and the sorrow, and, alone as I was in another country, I took to the internet to do something with this love and passion for the work that was tossing restlessly inside me. I'd written my first fanfiction some years prior - it was rather terrible, but I'm still fond of it and keep the draft - and now I endeavoured to write more, write better, and find my way around the internet community. Art was made, stories were written. I composed much music to express emotions that I could not otherwise express, creating melodies and soaring instrumentals, composing poetry to lyricise it, and quietly hoarding the works for my own ears, scared to lose them to a world that can be so unforgiving. I went into the mountains and forests, lands new to me, breathing in the fresh air and dipping my toes into the fjords - wading through them, in fact; climbing down dangerous cliff-faces to find little forested crevices to sit in the sunshine and look out over the water and dream of impossible lands and lost tales, of elves and Men and shining cities hidden away in valleys, of the magic in the woods and trees.
Incidentally, it was this year, 2017, in yet another country and on a new road to a degree and a direction, when my foray into the community really, finally, took off. I'd been, very quietly, a presence on the Silmarillion Writer's Guild for some time, not interacting much at all, and posting rarely. But when Back to Middle-earth Month came to my attention, I decided, why not? Let us try this. There is a beautiful community of people out there who feel that same deep love and reverence for the Professor's work in them, whose hearts ache with the beauty and the sorrow, too, and who want to share this with others, to love their favourite characters and stories together. So I did. It was the best decision I could have made, and worth a post of its own.
That brings together a summation of every way Tolkien has been part of my life since the beginning - but it is a summation, and quite a material one, and hardly expressive of the feelings and deep love I have for the entire legendarium and all its facets. One day, this may be revisited, the map filled in with greater detail and accuracy, with more richness and depth in the stories and lives that it is a snapshot of. The road has been long, and it has been good. Little by little, I've come a long way along that path, and met many people, and done many things, and gained such experiences that I shan't have without the immense influence and grace of the Professor and his inimtable work. The road goes ever on - towards the beginnings of scholarship, perhaps; to more fanfiction projects; to reading the Histories of Middle-earth; to considering a trip to Oxonmoot and a stop by Tolkien's grave.
The road has been long, and it has been good. Little by little, I've come a long way along that path, and met many people, and done many things, and gained such experiences that I shan't have without the immense influence and grace of the Professor and his inimitable work. The road goes ever on - towards the beginnings of scholarship, perhaps; to more fanfiction projects; to reading the Histories of Middle-earth; to considering a trip to Oxonmoot and a stop by Tolkien's grave.
Yes, and whither then? I cannot say.