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Happy Birthday, Professor

I don’t know when I first REALLy encountered J.R.R.Tolkien, and Middle Earth. They have simply been a part of my life forever.

I fell into “Lord of the Rings” and it closed over my head, and I’ve been breathing it through silver ever since, its words and worlds often as real to me – and sometimes far more real to me – than the ones I was physically contained in. It was the worlds of my heart and my spirit and my mind that have always mattered to me; all the rest is merely existing. THIS world is not where I LIVE. It’s where my physical body is, it’s where people I love can hug me or hold my hand or smile at me, it’s where I can eat chocolate and drink coffee… but when I close my eyes I am always somewhere else entirely, and my dreams are always of times and places that have no truck with this everyday world at all.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born Jan. 4, 1892. So many years ago. So much has happened in the time that has passed since. I wonder what Professor Tolkien would have made of the iPad and the e-book readers – the slim little tablets which can contain all of his hundreds of thousands, his millions, of published words without raising a sweat, which can allow his readers to carry ALL of his thick volumes with them at all times.

I read him in the original paper tomes, of course. My much-loved and literally falling apart omnibus paperback edition of “Lord of the Rings” is as familiar to me as a friend I have known from the cradle.

Tolkien was never MY professor, at anything, but Tolkien has taught me so much of my craft.

From him, I have learned how to build a secondary world so that it rises living and breathing and more real than the armchair in which the reader who is encountering it is sitting in. From him, I learned that characters are never wholly black or white but that there are always shades of gray and that it pays to explore the shadows. From him, I learned that trees can talk. From him, I learned that dreams have power. From him, I have learned that size is irrelevant and that the smallest of creatures – a fur-footed hobbit – can be counted on to topple the greatest towers that the Evil Overlord can dream of building. From him I learned of the power of language, and of other tongues, and from him I learned how much it matters to know, and believe in, history and legend and myth because of how fundamentally they shape our present and our future.

From him, I learned how to be epic and to see the big – the BIGGEST – picture; from him, I learned the strength and power of paying attention to details, and not losing sight of things others might think insignificant or irrelevant. From him, I learned what I know of patience. From him, I learned how to make people laugh; from him, I learned how to make people cry; from him, I learned how to make people remember.

Some years ago I actually visited the Wolverhampton Cemetery in Oxford where he is buried. A Catholic, his grave lies in the part of the cemetery which is devoted to the dearly departed of that faith – which, in this instance, means wading through gravestone after gravestone of Polish names until you finally stumble on the unassuming gray marble headstone which bears his name, and his wife’s, and their dates of birth and death – and two things more. Beneath her name, the word “Luthien”. Beneath his, the word “Beren”. The names of two characters who shared an undying love in the world of his books.

I stood at his graveside, mute, not knowing what I could offer other than a simple thank you for… for EVERYTHING… and it was at this moment that the stillness of the summer day was broken by a breath, just a single breath, of wind. It came swirling around the Polish gravestones, spiralled around the gray marble of Tolkien’s own, and briefly ruffled my hair, as though with the gentle touch of a hand, a soft blessing. And then it was gone again, and I was alone in the summer silence.

Thank you, Professor. For everything, and above all for that touch of wind in my hair.

I know it came down to me from the forests and mountains and valleys of Middle Earth, that world you created with such meticulous care, the world in which I have spent so much of my youth – and to which I still so often and so happily return, because it still has things left to teach me.


About AlmaAlexander

I'm a scientist by education, a duchess by historical accident and an author who shares writing tips and glimpses of a writer's life, the mundane and the magic

18 responses »

  1. Pingback: Plantnow » Blog Archive » Plantnow | Happy Birthday, Professor « Worldweaverweb’s Blog

  2. This was such a wonderful post to read!

  3. That was very interesting 🙂 you are now one of my favorite authors, because i am reading your book Gift of the Unmage for an English Class report and i have to blog about the book and do a research paper about you. This post really helps me, because i need to have information on what or who inspired you to write and such. I really like this post, it was wonderful. I’ve always liked to write, but your novel so far has made me even more interested. Thank You. I’m sory for this comment being so long, though…

    • worldweaverweb

      Thank you – and the comment was not long at all! I hope you enjoy the book (and that you’ll go on to #2 and #3 in the series, too…)

      • I finished the book last night; it was a great book. i absolutely loved it 🙂 I am reading about 2 or 3 books at a time now and i am hoping to get a hold of spellspam and cybermage soon so i can read them.

      • worldweaverweb

        And again, thank you! 🙂 (if you own the book(s) and want to have them signed, let me know if you want a couple of signed book plates to stick inside them!) Also, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but you might want to visit where we’re doing an interesting experiment with one of my early books (click on the “how it all began” post first, to tell you what’s going on…)

      • Thank you, next time i get the chance i will check that out. It sounds very interesting. Thank you 🙂

      • I visited that page you said I may want to visit. I didn’t really get a chance to read it, but I did read the How It All Began thing. You were 14? That’s good. I myself love to write, and I am 14, and I am actually working on my own trilogy, with the help of my older sister, just for fun. I began it last year, and I am on book 2. I will visit that blog more and read to see how it is written and everything, 1 because I like your writings of course, and 2 because it may help me with what I’ve been writing. Thank You 🙂 and I’m planning to ask my mom to let me get the Worldweavers series next time I can so I can finish the books.

  4. worldweaverweb

    Kudos on the trilogy!Good luck! (and if you have any problems with getting the second book – “Spellspam” – let me know. I can help.

  5. Thank you, I really appreciate it. The books I’ve been reading and need to read just keep piling up. I am reading one series that i own, along with waiting for the next book in two other series to come out, and get Spellspam and Cybermage, plus a book that i need to read for school. So many books, so little time. 🙂

  6. Hi, you remember how I explained that I have been trying to write my own trilogy? (I got an account, so I am posting as a different name now, but it’s me) Well, I decided to post chapters on my own blog, like you are doing with your novel that you wrote when you were 14, I hope you don’t mind that I chose to do that same sort of idea. But anyway, I posted so much as the prologue to book one so far, and I’m looking forward to comments. I wanted to again say thank you, and my sister is close to being persuaded to read Worldweavers now, because I’ve been bugging her about it. Anyway, I’m really trying to not sound like a complete teenager, even though I am one, hah, but Thank you 🙂 As I said in my last post, I appreciate it. Sorry, I’m trying not to ramble on so much that what I’m saying starts to not make sense. I have a tendency to do that. hah.

    • worldweaverweb

      I’ll drop by the blog and have a read! Good luck with your project! (and please DO weigh in with comments and opinions on the Clan novel – my Teen Advisory Council would welcome more interaction with other readers!)

      And thanks for spreading the word about Worldweavers. The best possible incentive for people to read a book is hearing about it from an enthusiastic recommender – and I appreciate your telling other potential readers about these. How old is your sister – older or younger?…

      • she is older. I have a 16 year old sister, an 8 year old sister who is running around the house right now, and a 21 year old brother who graduated from college a couple days ago. We all love to read, but my older sister and I are the closest in age and read books that the other reads often.

      • Oh yeah, the link to my trilogy blog is
        Right now I was trying to update it and fix something on it, but it keeps saying there’s an error, it won’t even let me look at my profile, so I had to send s note thing to Support. But I have the prologue and chapter 1 up so far, and my big siter says that she’s going to draw a picture (she’s been the one drawing my characters and stuff ever since I started it last year) of the main character and a couple others to put as the header picture, so the current picture there is temporary. I hope it gets fixed soon though. I’m going to look at your Clan novel blog now.

      • worldweaverweb

        Went to take a look, tried to leave you a comment to the prologue but it Would. Not. Let. Me. What I was going to say was, some nice worldbuilding and imagery, you obviously know your background, but if you want a couple of pieces of advice on how to improve it, there’s a few things you can do right now. One is a very broad TRUST YOUR READER – no, you do NOT have to supply a pronunciation for every single foreign word you use, your reader will either know enough to pronounce it properly or they will pronounce it wrong (and really, it doesn’t matter at all – they can sound out these things in their own heads in whatever way they want and it won’t hurt your story one little bit. As far as the writing is concerned, a couple of things: dialogue ALWAYS starts on a new paragraph – yours tends to be jumbled into huge tangled knots and it gets to be difficult to follow who’s actually talking; the concepts of “lie” and “lay” are VERY different, and you are using the wrong one in context here – it’s an easy enough thing to fix and LOTS of people make that switch, so don’t get too hung up on that right now; vary the length of your sentences so that your writing gets a better flow to it (it feels rather abrupt right now – yes, you ARE allowed a longer sentence now and then… [grin]) But these are relatively minor quibbles and easily fixable. Let me also say that it’s pretty impressive stuff for a writer of your age. Keep writing – it’s ALL practice… and good luck! (and PS – your sister is a talented artist…)

  7. Thank you, I will remember that and try to fix stuff. And my sister didn’t draw the current picture, but she is a very, very talented artist. I wish I could draw like her, actually. She can draw really close to what that current picture looks like. She hasn’t started drawing what she wants me to put on there yet, though. And I have no idea what’s wrong with the blog; it won’t let me do anything, and it won’t let comments be sent, so I don’t know. Thank you a bunch for looking at it. I hope it gets fixed soon though, because I can’t even add any other chapters.

  8. My blog was fixed, so people can leave comments again now and I can post again. i still havent put up the next chapter, but I might after school today. I edited the chapters I already have.

  9. Hi again 🙂 well I was wondering if you could possibly help me with something, though I hate asking for help because I’d hate to disturb you or anything, but for my English project I need to print out one of you articles or journals or interviews but it needs to be one that was from a magazine or a newspaper, and I cant find any magazine or newspaper ones. I was wondering if you could help, like if you knew or rememebered any that I could use.


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