It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Every summer, I take and reread J.R.R. Tolkien's classic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.
If you've been around here for any length of time, you know that the Tolkien influence abounds in my writing, and the blood of Middle-earth flows through my veins. I realize I may sound a little silly saying that, but it feels true.
Something in me is made of silver.
Something in me has a champagne-bubble sheen.
Something in me has a glint in its eye and turns its profile toward the sky, is sharp-eyed and quick-eared for the sounds of Adventure.
And Tolkien was the one that first woke me up.
If you've never heard the story of why I'm so in love with Tolkien, it's a story I love to remember. In Christmas of 2013, I had just been through a nasty breakup. I was having a rough time, and my mama suggested I go see her counselor, just to talk. So I did. It was raining that December day; I remember that I wore my dark skinny jeans and a bright pink V-neck. I'm sure there must have been a jacket involved -- it was December, for the love -- but I don't remember it.
I sat on the couch across from Ms. Sally, as I called her, with a pillow across my lap: partly because I didn't like my thighs, partly for protection. Protection from my big emotions, from whatever was in the room.
She was so kind. Is so kind. I talked along about my breakup, and I happened to mention that The Lord of the Rings were my favorite books, and that I wanted to live more like that. If she asked me to elaborate, I can't remember, but elaborate I did.
At the beginning of each book, I said, you have a hobbit. In The Hobbit it's Bilbo; at the opening of The Lord of the Rings, it's Frodo, Bilbo's young cousin. At the opening of each of their stories, they are happy. They are content. They are perfectly pleased with where their lives are right then, and they have no desire for change. In fact, at the opening of Bilbo's story, he would say that he has no use for adventure, has no need. He didn't want to go on any kind of adventure.
But then someone, or something comes along -- usually Gandalf -- and prompts them into motion. Bilbo is propelled out the door by a desire he does not understand, Frodo by necessity and danger. But Something, some Factor causes them to leave. They can scarcely believe it themselves, but they are off, on the Road, on an Adventure. And over the course of their stories, they encounter things such as they have never seen before. There is danger such as they never imagined, and if they had imagined it, they would never have dared to leave the comfort of their homes -- or they would wish they had dared, but only wish. There is peril and danger and death and hardship and misery.
There is also beauty and light and gorgeousness beyond their wildest imaginings, and encounters that nourish and whet their souls more than they could ever have fathomed or dreamed.
And then they return home, and they are never the same. Everything is colored for them now, and they cannot rub the Adventurousness out of their hearts.
That's how I want to live, I told Ms. Sally. I've always felt as though I lived safe. That I wasn't brave (this was before I realized that I was. That I am). I wanted to dare, not simply to wish that I dared. I wanted to be an Adventuress (which is how I've begun describing myself, in my public bios, only recently!). I wanted to live in such a way that I encountered peril and danger -- but those things only make the beauty more beautiful, the light more lovely.
So I reread The Lord of the Rings every year. Every single summer. I do a book a month: The Fellowship of the Ring in June, The Two Towers in July, and The Return of the King in August. Incidentally, August is my birthday month, and I can truly think of no better way to ring in a new year of my life than with Tolkien.
Each year, around April, I have such trouble reading ANYTHING. I'm so mentally drained, and I usually don't finish any books during that month. I start doubting whether or not I can make it through another reread of LOTR. Those books require a lot of mental attention and focus, and I start asking myself if I have it in me.
But then, at the tail end of May, I start craving it. Maybe I've trained my body and my brain to need it -- but really, I think that my soul starts longing for the reminder of who she actually is.
She's a warrior, she's a princess. She's an Adventuress.
This year has been no exception. Toward the end of May, I started needing Tolkien in my life, needing it like I need sleep. This May was emotionally taxing for me: I had a lot of extant ideas challenged, and I've had to reconsider what I want in my life. When I start asking myself that question, I come back to one answer:
I want Adventure.
I want a life that feels like me. And that means free and full and adventurous.
That was the answer when I talked to Ms. Sally three and a half years ago, or it would have been if she had asked me. And it's my answer now, now that I'm going on 23 years old and I'm having to ask myself what it is that I want from my life.
I want to be adventurous.
And that's why I reread Tolkien every year. Yes, those books feel like coming home, and they have an air about them that I just can't shake, that I want to color the way I view this whole wide beautiful world around me. But reading Tolkien is a little bit like reading the Bible, in that it reminds me of who I actually am. It gets down to the earth of my soul, buries its fingers into the rich loam, and I go, Oh, yeah.
And in a world where we are constantly being asked to be anything other than ourselves: what a gift. What a privilege. What an honor.