I hadn’t realised series 10 of the ABC’s Book Club has changed format. I sat down – tea cup in hand, a piece of home-made banana and walnut cake in the other – and cued up this month’s episode. Bonus! There were two. It is scheduled weekly, not monthly for 2016.
Episode two was entitled: Books That Changed My Life. The question was asked of the four guest panelists. Their answers were varied: The Uncanny X-men graphic novel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence and Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. This got me pondering. What book changed my life?
I thought about it for a week. Many books have influenced me, but which one book had changed my life? This wasn’t an easy question.
I come from a religious family. My faith was introduced to me at a very young age. The Bible influenced me greatly, from a very young age. It shaped my beliefs, my ethics. It guided me. It challenged me. It made me ask questions. But it didn’t change my life because it had always been there.
I thought harder. I’ve read so many books, but had any caused a specific change in my life? Then it was clear. The book that changed my life was Lord of the Rings.
In high school I was an avid mystery reader – Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh. It wasn’t long before I had finished the books in that section of the library. In grade eight, the school librarian, who made it her quest to widen a student’s reading vocabulary, gave me a copy of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
A new, fantastical world opened up to me. I read and read Lord of the Rings. I sourced other books on Middle Earth. My library now boasts three copies of The Hobbit, three copies of Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Lays of Beleriand, The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales and other J R R Tolkein essays.
It was a big part of my adolescence. But how did Lord of the Rings change my life?
First: I discovered speculative fiction. I could transport myself to a place where anything was possible. It provided an escape from a difficult family situation and the uncertainty of the eighties when world leaders had their fingers hovering over the ‘big red button’. Once hooked, I found a hero in Doctor Who, I found adventure in Star Wars. Instead of physically running away, I absconded into fictional worlds where good triumphed over evil and friends were loyal, even against the odds.
This led to the imaginative world of Dungeons and Dragons. I now created my own worlds, drew up maps, created world histories and characters to fill the void. This inspired me to write my first book (still hidden somewhere in storage boxes). I wrote fantasy, science fiction and Doctor Who adventures. I researched history – leading into decades of historical re-enactment – and fell in love with words. Those early seeds grew over the years. Writing and speculative fiction came to my rescue in another time of need. Helping me to cope with anxiety.
I’m fortunate to have discovered Lord of the Rings at a pivotal point in my life – a time I was pondering life, the universe and everything. The themes of preserving our natural environment, resisting corruption, of loyalty and sacrifice for others and the ability for the smallest of people to make a difference in the world follow through the books. They shaped my life and re-enforced childhood teachings. I care for the environment, companion plant, save water, recycle. I worked twenty-eight years, looking after the health of others. I crave for a world where friendship and loyalty are more important than material wealth.
Over the years, I kept returning to Lord of the Rings – to the Ents who fought against the destruction of their home and defeated Saruman. I returned to Aragorn the hero, to Galadriel the elf-queen who resisted the temptation of the ring and to Samwise, the loyal friend – who I think was the real hero of the tale.