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A book is a literary compass that has the potential to direct our thoughts and actions:

"Everything we read stimulates our mind to think, and what we think determines what we desire, and desires are the seedbed of our actions. Given this iron law of human nature--from reading to thinking, to desiring, to acting--we are shaping our destiny by the ideas we choose to have enter our minds through print." - Fr. John Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

Welcome to my own personal exploration of life through reading the great books of the world.

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Location: Spokane, Washington, United States

"Every soul that uplifts itself uplifts the world." --Elisabeth Leseur

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Friday, June 30, 2006

Tolkien and Me

When I was in junior high (somewhere around 1979) an animated TV show caught my attention. It was the Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit. I have never been the same.

The next day I rode my bike through the streets of Billings, Montana to the tiny bookstore in West Park Plaza, the nearest thing we had to a mall. I can still see exactly where the Tolkien books rested on the shelves, very bottom, slightly left of center. Moments later, with money earned by delivering the Billings Gazette, I purchased my very first book. I rode home as if Gollum himself were after me, plopped sideways into my father's favorite brown leather La-Z-Boy and did not move for four hours, except to turn pages. The next day I rode back to West Park Plaza and bought my second book, The Fellowship of the Ring. Four days later, I had finished a four-volume work that in twenty five years has only been surpassed in my mind by one other book, Don Quixote.

Though The Hobbit may not rank in my top ten favorite books anymore, that canary yellow paperback still occupies a prominent place on the bookshelves in my office, where it is now joined by two sets of The Lord of the Rings paperbacks and two one-volume editions, as well as the extended cuts of all three Peter Jackson films, unabridged audio recordings of Tolkien's works, and an entire shelf of Middle-earth reference books.

Like many others, my life has been irrevocably altered by Tolkien's works. Five years after reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time, I set off for Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington to earn a medieval history degree so that I, too, could write epic fantasy novels. I graduated with the history degree, but I am still waiting for the epic novel to emerge from my subconscious. I'm not sure it ever will. In the meantime, I teach junior high literature in a Catholic school. Our first book of the year is always The Hobbit.

I wasn't going to make this first post about Tolkien, with all the oversaturation caused by Jackson's movies, but I couldn't honestly write about my love for literature without mentioning him. In fact, The Lord of the Rings hit me so hard at the most impressionable time of my life, that I consider it divine providence. I have been a Catholic since birth, and I think my admiration and respect for Tolkien and his Catholicism prevented me from ever really having serious doubts about my faith. I believe, too, that Tolkien's works had a great impact in reinforcing the formation of my conscience, and in teaching me about living a virtuous life.

Neither of my parents went to college, or were especially academic. But their quiet faith and morality became a living, vibrant reality in The Lord of the Rings, much in the same way that the invisible God became a living, vibrant reality in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Tolkien is not the first or only one who has worked this miracle. Others before and after him have been able to capture a portion of Truth and Beauty in their words. Augustine, Dante, Cervantes, Dostoyevski, Undset, Chesterton, and many others have left the world a legacy of incarnated virtue and faith between the covers of their books.

My intention in creating this blog is to provide a place where these authors and books can be held up like post-resurrection prophets, as witnesses to a Truth and Beauty that will point like a compass to true North and the heavenly bodies that reside there.

Please help me in this endeavor through your comments, suggestions, and
prayers.

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posted by Nick Senger at 9:27 AM 1 comments Links to this post