We have a new Tolkien fanatic in our house. Her name is Bethan and she is a 5-year-old sparkplug with freckles and curly hair. Every single day, she peppers me with requests to read from our Tolkien storybook.
I’m thrilled about this, of course. The works of JRR Tolkien are favorites of mine and I am unabashedly campaigning for my children to become aficionados as well. My older three are at various points on the road to Tolkien appreciation and I’m always looking for opportunities to prod them along. I wasn’t expecting my youngest to outstrip her siblings so soon, though.
You may be wondering how a 5-year-old who can’t read (or sit still) very well became such a fan of Tolkien’s winding prose. It’s a fair question.
Here’s how it happened: One afternoon, I was sitting on the back porch enjoying one of my favorite books when my girl crawled up into my lap and said those magical words: “Daddy, will you read to me?” The book I was reading is called Tales From the Perilous Realm and it’s a collection of some of Tolkien’s shorter works (Roverandom, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Smith of Wootton Major, and Leaf by Niggle). Just to be silly, I began reading to her right where I was in the story—no background, no explanation, just the next sentence. I assumed she’d stop me in confusion after a few sentences but she just sat there in my lap, nestling and listening.
After about 5 minutes, she hopped down and ran into the backyard to play. I kept on reading to myself until about half an hour later when she reappeared and asked me to read again. By now, the characters she had glimpsed were much farther along in the plot. Nevertheless, I picked up right where I was and read the next scene aloud. Though the scenes were disjointed, I was amazed to see her take it in stride and use her own imagination to blend the two into seamless continuation. She thought up her own little details to fill in the gaps and, in doing so, created a new tale. It was connected to Tolkien, but different.
I thought it was great fun, so we kept the story going. Over the next couple of weeks, she would continue to ask every day, “Can you read to me from our storybook?” In between these requests I kept up with my own reading, finding myself looking forward to the next time she would waltz into our story world to reveal the next scene in our patchwork plot. With various passages from Tolkien’s Perilous Realm as building blocks, her imagination whirred to life as she fashioned a new tale as unique as herself.
Just ask her about it and she’ll tell you. It’s an unlikely yarn involving wizards, all sorts of dogs — toy dogs, real dogs, moon-dogs, mer-dogs — and a funny farmer named Joe (no matter how many times I tried to correct it to Giles) who fought off giants and dragons before he was tricked into swallowing a magical star that transported him to Faery, where he painted beautiful trees and recited cat poems for the rest of his life.
In my estimation, it’s a masterpiece.
And even though I have now finished the book, our story is never-ending. All I need to do now is open it up to another scene and the story continues, if somewhat circuitously.
Of course, I speculate that her interest is not merely caught up in the story we are weaving together. Our story is brilliant fun but, if I may be so bold, it seems clear to me that her main interest is the lap upon which she sits as we let our imaginations soar.
And, Lord, I pray her imagination will soar so high. For now, I’m enjoying my role as the lap upon which she nestles to find all the fatherly encouragement she could ever ask for. Even though we are butchering his stories, I think Tolkien would have appreciated that.