Today is Tolkien Reading Day, a fact I discovered randomly while going through Twitter for a work project. For those of you/us who haven’t read The Lord of the Rings recently (or paid exceptionally close attention to the calendar of Middle Earth), March 25 marks both the day the One Ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, causing the fall of Sauron, and also the beginning of the Fourth Age, ushered in as that ancient evil was extinguished.
Knowing just enough about the Middle Earth calendar to cause trouble for myself, I wondered if that was by the Shire Reckoning or the Stewards’ Reckoning and did a quick search. Not that it matters! Just because once I’d asked the question, I kind of wanted to know the answer. Although I didn’t totally track that down, I did find a website that takes its history of the Middle Earth calendar quite seriously, the Tolkien Gateway project/wiki, “the J.R.R. Tolkien encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” A pretty amazing website covering just about any topic you can think of drawn from the fictional world of Tolkien’s imagination.
I also found a website (Tea with Tolkien) devoted to “the works, life, and Catholic faith of J.R.R. Tolkien,” where a post titled “Why March 25th Might Be The Most Important Date of all History” explains the significance of that date in terms of its religious roots, with their juxtapositions of life and death that most likely inspired Tolkien’s decision to use it in The Lord of the Rings:
In The Spirit of Liturgy, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) explained, “Jewish tradition gave the date of March 25 to Abraham’s sacrifice… This day was also regarded as the day of creation, the day when God’s word decreed: ‘Let there be light.’ It was also considered, very early on, as the day of Christ’s death and eventually as the day of his conception..”
Are you a Tolkienite? For many years I reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy every year. As my children grew and my job expanded, that tradition fell by the wayside. It has now been about 15 years since my last reading.
So many books, so little time. Should I push aside some of the new titles on my “to read” list to make room for another reading of Tolkien? I think maybe yes, I will. After all, just like Heraclitus’s river, this reading would not be a mere repeat of what I’ve already done. I’m a different person now than I was 15 years ago, and the world is a different place. Reading the trilogy today would be an entirely new experience, with new understandings to gain, connections to make, and insights to form.
Here is my favorite poem from The Lord of the Rings. I can still vividly recall the delight my 13-year-old self found in its wordplay and mind-bending reversals. It is found in the trilogy’s first book, when the hobbits are fleeing the Shire with the ring but don’t know where they’re going or even have a full understanding of the evil they’re up against. This poem turns up in a note left by the wizard Gandalf telling the hobbits to trust Strider, the rough-looking and seemingly untrustworthy “Ranger of the North” who is actually Aragorn, descendant of ancient kings and legitimate ruler of the throne of Gondor and the race of Men.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.