By Beth McCoy
On Christmas eve 1976, I found J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit on a cinder-block bookshelf in my Aunt Francie’s apartment. Feigning repeated bathroom trips as an excuse to leave the dinner table, I sped through the book. By the time I was caught by dismayed parents who knew that a golden box containing both The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy awaited me in the morning, I had already finished the book, despite an over-long stop in Rivendell.
The surprise wasn’t ruined, though. Indeed, I found the trilogy to be hypnotic. Too young to understand the racism driving the books’ vision, I was half in love with Strider by the time Frodo left Bree. And the end of The Return of the King yielded even greater love: appendices explaining Elvish languages and alphabets that Tolkien conjured seemingly from the air.
I was eleven and audacious. If Tolkien could make up new alphabets, I could, too. So I grabbed crayons and paper and threw myself upon an avocado-green rug amid walls teeming with yellow and orange flowers. I set upon my quest.
When I tell this story in the classroom, it’s at this point that students begin to smile. They realize suddenly what’s coming.