A Book Can Be a Friend: A Girl Who Loved Tolkien and Her Favorite Book
By: Rachel Parsons
When I was eleven, in the year 2001, I saw advertisements for the first of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember standing in line at the movie theater, though I don’t remember which movie I was there to see, and I saw the big cardboard standups advertising The Fellowship of the Ring. I recognized the name from the fantasy cartoons I’d grown up on. There were three animated films my brothers and I had watched over and over again, those being The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King.
I was ecstatic at the time because the animated films were some of my favorite movies. The hobbits, in particular, were characters very dear to me. I mentioned it to my mother. She, being a librarian, was quick to inform me that there were books that the films were based on and my mother has always believed in reading the book before seeing the movie. Posthaste, I checked out The Fellowship of the Ring from our local library, where my mother worked, and so began my fascination and adoration of anything written by Tolkien.
All of the books were dear to me and I finished them before The Two Towers came out in theaters, meaning I was then able to anticipate the final movie along with every other Tolkien fan at the tender age of thirteen. I was so enthralled in those books that I took them everywhere I went, just so I’d be able to read them. I huddled under a blanket and umbrella with the library’s paperback copy of The Two Towers at my little brothers’ baseball game while it was lightly raining on me, determined to read my book for as long as possible. There was nothing more important in my life at the time. Even Harry Potter didn’t measure up.
My mother was happy to indulge my Tolkien addiction. She bought me a copy of The Hobbit, which I read out of order but adored all the same. I even tried to read The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, but at thirteen the material was far too dense for me to comprehend. At fifteen, my father took me to a bookstore to pick out my own books for Christmas and I bought myself a copy of The Silmarillion, which I have not read to this day. Out of every Tokien book I read or tried to read, however, I had a favorite. It wasn’t just one title, mind you. It was a very specific copy of one book in particular.
While I had checked out worn paperback copes of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers when I rented them from the library, I was and am the sort of person who prefers a hardback book. My library had a hardback copy of The Return of the King that I adored. It was an older copy, well-worn before I ever came along to find it in the back corner of the fiction shelves. It was red and the front of the dust jacket had been cut out and glued to the front many years ago. This book, unassuming as it might have appeared, was more than just a book to me. It was a dear friend.
I suppose I should mention that during this period of my life, my parents got a divorce. It was not an easy thing for me to understand at the time and instead of trying to comprehend what was happening to my family, I spent all of my time reading about Middle-Earth. I checked out The Return of the King many times. I took it with me when I went places with my dad, and for fun I talked my little brothers into acting out scenes from the book, which we were all terrible at, being quite small at the time.
Sometimes, when I went to work with my mother and needed a place to hide, I would go to the corner of the library where they kept the Tolkien books. It was hidden behind another shelf and I often curled up there with my book and read my favorite scenes over and over again. Once or twice, I used the book as a pillow and fell asleep in that corner. But I don’t think anyone knew how much that book really meant to me.
I asked once if, should the book ever be discarded, they would give it to me. I was going on sixteen at the time and my book was falling apart. The head librarian took it and carefully repaired the damage, as per my instruction, but promised that it wasn’t going to be discarded any time soon. All the same, I told her, I wanted this book when it did get discarded. I knew it would happen sooner or later. That copy had probably been there since the seventies and it had seen better days. One day, I knew the library would have to update it.
On my sixteenth birthday, the employees at the library gave me a present. It was a brand new and quite beautiful copy of The Return of the King, which they knew was my favorite book. I was not sure what to say. It was a nice present and I didn’t have the book, so of course I appreciated it. But it wasn’t my book. It wasn’t the book I’d fallen asleep with and taken on travels with me. It didn’t look or feel or smell the same. Still, I didn’t tell them that they’d given me the wrong book. I thanked them profusely and told them that I loved it.
My book remained on the shelf and I checked in on it now and then, just to see if it was still around. It was always there when I went back to the corner for it, and it was the only book I ever considered stealing from the library. I didn’t do that, of course. I held out some hope that when it came time for my book’s retirement, the librarians would remember me and they would hold it back. Years passed and still, my book remained on the shelf.
My mother quit her job and set about getting her Master’s degree in Library Science. We had long since moved to another part of the county and after my mother quit, we rarely visited that library. The library was later moved into a much nicer building. I would think about my book occasionally but was now convinced that it could never be mine. The head librarian retired and a new librarian took her place. I was preoccupied with college and had little time to worry about one book that was never meant to be mine.
The thing is, I went back yesterday. I had to see if my book was still there. I had been thinking about it a lot, what with The Hobbit being made into a new movie, and I wondered if my book was still in circulation. If not, I wondered if anyone knew where it was. Holding my breath, I went to the new corner that houses the Tolkien books and I searched. My book was not present amongst the others. Biting my lip, I returned to the main desk to ask if perhaps it had been checked out. Someone checked for me, but reported back that there were no hardback copies of The Return of the King, only paperbacks.
I’m not upset with anyone over it. No one knew it was my book. I never knew how to explain it to anyone, and besides, they are not the same employees who were there when I fell asleep with it in the corner. No one could tell me what had happened to it, but I’m sure it was taken to the book sale and some lucky person picked it up for a dollar or less. I wish it had been me that found it and took it home. I cried about it when I got back out to the car. There are so many memories I have attached to that book. It saw me through so many things but in the end, it never belonged to me.
Whoever has it now, I hope they appreciate it. When I got home, I looked online for a copy like it and found one for sale that had a dust jacket like mine did; only this dust jacket was still intact and not glued to the book. I bought it and sent a message to the seller, telling them how happy I was to have found this copy, how it was like mine, and that I’d cried earlier in the day when I discovered my copy was gone. The seller was very sweet, told me how much they loved Tolkien too and how they were glad my book had found me.
I think I will be happy when it arrives in the mail. When I take it out and hold it in my hands, I think it will feel something like my book felt. Maybe it will smell the same too, musty and antique like old books often smell, though it can never completely look the part unless I break the spine and mutilate the dust jacket. In truth, like the seller, I am glad that this copy found me. I want to have this one so I can move on and put my book to rest. It lived a very long shelf life and probably brought happiness to a lot of people. I can honestly say that I don’t think anyone loved it more than I did. Sometimes a book is a good friend when you need one the most.