But first, a bit of musing by way of interlude….
I’m a reader. I read like most people watch TV. I’ve been that way for years-most of my life, actually. I can remember in junior high reading 28 young adult novels a week during the summer between school semesters. (The library only let me have 4 per day. I’d check out 4 about 1 pm, read three before bedtime, read the fourth the next morning, and repeat after lunch.) I once tried to estimate how many fiction books I’ve read in the last forty-mumble years, and quit trying after I arrived at a number even I didn’t want to believe. One of my major complaints about actually succeeding at writing is that it cuts waaaaaay into my reading time.
I discovered science fiction in sixth grade, by way of Andre Norton’s novel Catseye. (It gladdens me to see Ms. Norton receiving from many of the current generation of great writers the recognition she is due. It saddens me that she didn’t receive it during most of her life.) From there the jump to Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, etc., was a short one.
I think what caught me up in SF was what the old-timers used to call the “sense of wonder”. But in my case, it wasn’t from the idea of space flight or zoomy technology that grabbed me. No, I was hooked on the worlds. Even at ages 10-12, I began to see beyond the limits of the page and wanted to go to those places.
And then I arrived at eighth grade. Age 13, bright, introverted, lazy, and defensive. (“You really read that science fiction stuff?”) And then I discovered Tolkien.
This was 1964-5, right before the first paperback editions came out. In fact, I first read The Hobbit in paperback, but I read The Lord of the Rings in the hardback edition from the library. And of course, I had no idea what a trilogy was-who did, back then-so I read them out of order. (Did the same thing with Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, too. I told you, I was 13.) And boy, did I get confused, not least by the fact that the two main villains were named almost identically. (Sauron/Saruman-c’mon now, hand up those who didn’t stumble over that the first time through.) (That’s what I thought.)
But what caught me up in a hold that still exists to this day; what caused me to read the entire trilogy 12 times in eight years and re-read my favorite excerpts many times over since then, was the world. Say what you will about the stories-and I know that Tolkien is not everyone’s cup of tea-(Philistines)-the creation of Middle Earth is unequaled in the field of literature with a small ‘L’. The height and depth and breadth of Tolkien’s conception and realization is unparalleled, to my way of thinking. Of course the fact that he spent 20-30 years building it might have something to do with that. (Sometimes we feel like if we spend 2-3 months building our story universes, we’ve wasted time.)
The appendices at the end of The Return of the King quickly became some of my favorite reading. That’s where Tolkien gave me glimpses of everything that was lurking behind the scenes and under the surface. And I wanted that. Oh, how I wanted that. I copied out the tables of the runes from the appendices, and used them to translate the bands of runes on the title pages. (You do know that those aren’t just decorative, right?) I would pore over the genealogies, looking for correlations to the trilogy narrative. I would even lie awake at night and try to figure out what would go in the blank spots where he didn’t say anything…to no avail, of course.
And gradually, the desire began to grow in me to write. But I didn’t want to write to make a buck, or to impress people, or to feed my ego, or even to scratch an unscratchable itch. No, what caused me to set pen to paper (literally) in 1977 was a deep-seated desire to craft something that people would be drawn into the way I was drawn into Middle-Earth.
Oh, I know I’ll probably never attain that. The circumstances behind Tolkien’s craftwork are unique, and will probably never be duplicated. And even if it could, I don’t have 20 years to spend in doing it. But the fact that a goal may not be attained does not mean that it should not be striven for.
To this day, the works that are most likely to be retained in my library for frequent re-reading are works whose worlds are masterpieces of the world-building craft.
So that’s why I’m taking time to share thoughts and discussion about world-building.
Okay, end of musing interlude. On to discussion about world-building…next post. Promise.
First published on Fictorians.com 6/1/2011