The BBC are in the middle of a series of programmes on both Radio and Television about music written for film. This has caused great excitement in our house because we are all enthusiastic lovers of the big theme and there is no music more likely to provide fine examples than that written for the cinema.
At the moment we are taking an enforced break from listening to a two hour concert on Radio 3; enforced because they are playing Malcolm Arnold’s score for David Lean’s film The Bridge on the River Kwai and I can’t listen to that without crying. My Dad was a Far East Prisoner of War and was invited to the premiere when the film first opened in England. But it was a time in his life that he never talked about and I cannot go back to the film in any shape or form because I know that for him it was so much more than a fictional depiction.
However, earlier in the concert there was a selection of the music for Peter Jackson’s film of The Lord of the Rings and listening to that made me realise the extent to which that book has permeated the whole of my life. I’m sure if we stop and think about it all of us who are committed readers have books like that, books that seem to have accompanied us wherever we go and whatever we might be doing. For me it is Tolkien’s epic tale of Middle-Earth.
Of course, it helps that I happen to live in The Shire and that I’m surrounded by landmarks that Tolkien wove into his landscape. I walk in the shadow of one of the two towers almost every day of my life. However, I didn’t know that when the book was first recommended to me by an English teacher when I was thirteen. It wasn’t available in paperback and I couldn’t possibly have afforded it in hard cover so I had to keep taking it out of the library on extended loan until Christmas arrived and I could ask Santa Claus for my own copy. Those same three books, which will be fifty years in my possession this coming December, are still sitting on my shelves, battered and scarred not only by my reading but by that of the numerous pupils and students to whom I’ve lent them over the intervening decades. And, the story that they tell, the characters that they bring to life has simply become part and parcel of who I am.
I have read The Hobbit to successive classes of ten and eleven year olds; I have written essays on the nature of the peoples of Middle-Earth and how their manifestation differs from that of other fantasy authors and I have supervised two decades worth of students as they wrote their own dissertations on the novels. But more than that, I have carried around with me the notion of Frodo and Gandalf and Sam and Strider and Legolas and Gimli and Galadriel and Faramir wherever I have gone, almost as if they were part of my own character and I have certainly measured my own actions and responses and those of others against the examples provided by the way in which Tolkien explores the morality of the people involved in the epic struggle against the evil of Mordor.
Over the years I have encountered the story in different manifestations. I loved the Radio version that the BBC made back sometime in the eighties. I have it on CD and even now if I have days when I’m too ill to read I can still get great comfort from putting it on and being swept out of The Shire and onto that road that goes ever on and on until Sauron is defeated and the Hobbits are able to return home, albeit never again to be quite the same individuals that set out on that gloomy September day. Jackson’s film, particularly The Two Towers, annoys me intensely in parts but even that captures the essence of the characters and the magnitude of the physical and emotional task that lies before them. It cannot dull the life of the people that Tolkien created and who have walked my path alongside me for these past fifty years as friends and fellow travellers. My knowledge of and immersion in The Lord of the Rings is simply part of who I am.
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way about a particular book. In fact, I’ve met someone who I know would claim the same thing for Moby Dick. So, I wonder, do you have a book that is part of your identity in this way and if so what is it and why is it so powerful in your life. I would love to know.