Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Books We Read

The fact is, none of my children are particularly keen on Tolkien.

Once upon a time writing such a sentence might have given me a good deal of pain, but the way that I think about books and their place in defining who we are had undergone some changes over the last twenty years.

My parents both came from families not greatly into reading, but they both fell so deeply under the spell of Tolkien, Lewis and the like that they became lifelong influences. I would not exist without their interest in those books, since they met through a group for reading and discussing the works of the Inklings. I was an apple that did not fall far form the tree. I read The Hobbit at seven and the Narnia books repeatedly in my middle school years. I didn't read Lord of the Rings till the summer I was thirteen, but when I devoured it, reading the three volumes through in as many days, then turning directly to The Silmarillion, then reading Lord of the Rings through again. Fantasy and Science Fiction were nearly all that I read for fun in my high school years.

These books were so important to me, and to most of those close to me, that by the time I went to college it was a basic assumption for me that the only really interesting people, the only people who were worth having in depth discussions with, were people who shared interest in these same books and these same genres.

Because the works of Tolkien and Lewis seemed to speak so deeply to the way I understood the world, it also seemed natural to me that people who really read and understood these books would share my own views about life, the world, and its creator. Sure, with the advent of the internet I began to run into people who shared my passion for Middle Earth and Narnia but did not share my other beliefs, but at some level I was sure this must be because they hadn't yet really arrived at a full understanding of these books. Once they went 'further up and further in' in Lewis's words, they would arrive at the same place as I.

If that sounds incredibly naive, it's because it was. It took me a while to realize that lack of interest in what had been my favorite books and genres did not necessarily make someone "a mundane", someone without interest in the deeper truths I saw in my favorite books. What's more, many who did like my favorite books liked them because they liked the spectacle and escapism of a magical or futuristic setting, not because they actually had interest in the what I most valued in these books.

There's still a particular frisson to discovering someone else likes a book that you like. MrsDarwin and I in part became attached through my chance dropping of a Lewis Carol quote when we met at a freshman mixer. There's a real closeness to sharing a book you love with someone and having them love it too. That's in part why book lovers are so eager to provide reading recommendations.

And there's still plenty of time for the kids to come around on some of my favorites. Sure, I loved Tolkien at 13-14, but many people come to it later. I don't think I'd do my favorite books any favors by pushing the aggressively on kids who aren't currently finding them interesting. But even if they never do come to love his books as I do, won't feel it as an apostasy that divides us in the way that I would have imagined I would twenty years ago.


Banshee said...

In the words of the good Professor:

The Lord of the Rings
Is one of those things.
If you like it you do;
If you don't, then you boo!

I do think you could do a nice neurolinguistic/personality study on what kind of thinkers like reading Tolkien, as opposed to those who are violently allergic to him.

Rachel said...

I didn't even meet Tolkien till college, though I'd loved Narnia for years. There's still plenty of time and hope! My introduction was The Hobbit in the 16 hour car ride home from Steubie to IA as my trip-mates and I read it aloud. Then I devoured LOTR over the break and have never turned back.

Michael said...

I've been reading George MacDonald to my children (and one even by myself). He was apparently the favorite children's author of C.S. Lewis, and his worlds are even more whimsical, and equally steeped in a Christian worldview. I think Lewis and Tolkien appealed strongly to a person raised closer to the mid-twentieth century, and as we get farther from that time we can see better they were a product of a broader culture and movement. Having started with Lewis and Tolkien, I find myself expanding out to Chesterton, Waugh, Knox, MacDonald, Nesbit, Graham, Andrew Lang, etc, and something in one of them may speak better to children of the twenty-first century.

Cristina said...

Some time ago, a Facebook friend in her early 20s shared a meme that imagined the opposite scenario for her future: a granddaughter who would be nostalgic for the 2010s, but only for the things her grandmother despised. And I was surprised at the number of young women who chimed in, saying it would be the worst thing ever to have such a granddaughter. All I could think was: I'd be grateful to have a chance at having a granddaughter (or grandson) at all!

One of my own grandmother's biggest disappointments was that none of her children and grandchildren really took to Spanish, the language of her heart. (She would have taught it to all of us as babies if my grandfather hadn't forbidden it.) Even those of us who studied languages for fun always chose something else. She had trouble understanding why Spanish wasn't everyone's first choice . . . or only choice! Now that she has passed away, I deeply regret not letting her be more influential over my choices. But at least we were able to enjoy her favorite American movies from the 1930s and 1940s together!