Like a great many people my age, I was bowled over in my adolescence by the books of J.R.R. Tolkien. I was smitten, transformed. Not only was I transported by the great story itself, but as the immigrant son of British expats, I was also awakened for the first time to the great depth of my heritage: my connection to an ancient culture and people, to their folkways and song and poetry and myth, and to the lives they lived, and the stories they told, in the fertile valleys and craggy hills of my ancestral homeland.
The depth and beauty of Tolkien’s language — both his plain English prose and the several tongues he created for the books — aroused in me what would become a lifelong fascination with words and their history. Perhaps above all, the books gave this unchurched boy an unforgettable and richly embroidered parable, my first lesson in the persistence of evil in the world, and gave me also an inexpressibly poignant (adolescents do “inexpressibly poignant” better than anybody) awareness of the transience, and inevitable passing, of even the greatest works of men.
I realize I’m not the only one to have been affected in this way, at the dawn of adult understanding, by Tolkien’s books. Another, as it turns out, is Bruce Charlton, who writes about it all here — although he speaks also of one effect that I was immune to.