The Art of Mirriam Neal

One last time

I’ve been home less than ten minutes. We went to the midnight showing of the Battle of the Five Armies. The last installment. It’s one-thirty in the morning and I’m overflowing with so many thoughts and feelings and emotions I can’t put into words that I need to write them out.

It was so much more than a movie.

Through his Middle-Earth, John Tolkien reached through time and shaped my life. When I was very small, I would see my mother’s battered paperback copies of The Hobbit or The Return of the King lying around, although when I picked them up, I didn’t understand what was happening. I could tell, just from paragraphs, that something grand and dark and magnificent was taking place, but I didn’t know what. When I had just turned twelve (I believe, in fact, it was on my birthday), my mother told me I could read The Hobbit. Twelve being a very mature and adult age, I couldn’t fathom why she made me wait so long. Wasn’t it a children’s book? She said, “I don’t want you to read it until you understand it.” And so, at twelve, I picked up that old, old copy of Bilbo’s first adventure, and I read it cover to cover.

I went on to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in three days. Then I re-read it the week after. I searched out the Silmarillion, the Unfinished Tales. I was obsessed with Middle-Earth, but it was an obsession that went beyond the usual. I wasn’t just obsessed with the adventure or the characters or the prose – I had fallen in love with the heart of the story. A heart that drums out a beat of valor and honor and sacrifice, of virtue and courage and holding out one moment longer. These books did something that no fiction book had or has ever done to me.

They changed my life.

My desire to write words like Tolkien, to create that kind of story, grew into my first novel. My desire to re-create the artwork and the visuals broadened my art skills. The stories became entangled with me, and in me. Bilbo and Legolas and Gandalf and Aragorn became my friends. The Shire and Mirkwood became my home. The movies brought the books to life, gave faces to the characters. The imaginations of Peter Jackson and John Howe and Alan Lee did more to spark my creativity than any art has since.

Tonight, reaching across my sympathetic sister and holding my mother’s hand as tears ran in rivulets down my face and my heartbeat faded to a dim nothing, I said farewell, namarië, to Middle-Earth. Or at least the new Middle-Earth. The Middle-Earth re-forged. Of course, I can visit it again, and again, as many times as I like…but it isn’t the same. It’s looking at a memorial for a lost friend.

I want to say thank you. Thank you to the author who created Middle-Earth, thank you to the artists and directors and actors who did not bring it to life, but raised it from the page in a way no one else ever could have.

And to my mother, who made me wait until I could really understand.

Thank you for the great stories.

The ones that really matter.

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