The Shadow of the Past, part 2: The Lord of the Rings Paperback Flashbacks
I’m happy to finally complete a trilogy of posts born a month ago out of an afternoon spent hanging out at a local comic show with Adam, at which I bought a Starlog magazine featuring a cover piece on The Star Wars Holiday Special, and this Ralph Bakshi interview about his Lord of the Rings movie.
I also couldn’t resist this paperback boxed set of The Lord of the Rings:
Adam remembered these editions with their colorful triptych of covers as the ones his family had owned when he was growing up –
– but I’d never seen them before and loved them instantly, both in color (although I can’t stand the dead-center placement of the Houghton Mifflin logo on The Fellowship of the Ring) and as the black-and-white wraparound art to the slipcase.
I still have the boxed set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings which my Uncle Rob gave me when I was in first grade:
There are are three different kinds of tape holding these together. Two of the covers (which, as I had completely forgotten until working on this post, featured the paintings of J.R.R. Tolkien himself) are missing, replaced by sturdy black posterboard. The pages (and while a very few of the introductory pages and maps are missing, all the actual story pages are still here) are worn soft like a child’s blanket at the corners and edges.
The slipcase to these books was covered in shiny gold paper and decorated on the sides and top with symbols associated with LOTR figures and civilizations:
And I loved these books.
Not just the stories within, but these actual objects: I loved having this relatively massive set of books that looked so different from anything else on my bookshelves when I first got it. I loved feeling like reading these books was, by nature of the number of pages and the small type and the lack of pictures, something of an epic quest in itself.
(Digression: When I was a fourth-grader, as part of a reading awareness week, our entire class at Lake Elementary School participated in a vote to rename our school for one week in honor of a favorite author. No one seconded my nomination of Tolkien, and it was really no surprise when we wound up as students of Judy Blume Elementary after the balloting.)
When I got the books out to scan them for this entry, I found two things I had forgotten. First, a bookmark which I kept in this set of paperbacks, and second, this artwork inside the slipcase:
Though I got through The Hobbit pretty easily, it was a couple years before I really buckled down and got through The Lord of the Rings, and I vividly remember finally reading that last page, sitting in the den of our house – the room which had been my youngest brother’s room as an infant, and which had once been decorated with blue shag carpet and wallpapered with cartoon caricatures of old fighter planes and pilots.
Finishing The Return of the King marked the first time I remember completing a book into which I had been so thoroughly drawn that I felt off-kilter for awhile, like I had to re-adjust to the world around me, akin to the feeling you get returning home after a long trip. I still get that feeling from time to time, and when I do, it also takes me back to that afternoon in the den of the house where I grew up.