This tale grew in the telling
                                                                      "The Lord of the Rings"
I first became acquainted with the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien when I was 10. A friend at school recommended that I read "The Hobbit" and I did so. I found myself swept into a realm which I did not want to leave, and when I found that there was another "Hobbit" story with the mysterious and entrancing title of "The Lord of the Rings" I was off down to the public library to get a copy. I read "The Fellowship of the Ring" and was fascinated with it. For some inexplicable reason the tale seemed to have greater depth than "The Hobbit" and hinted of a depth, both in time and story, that was not present in that book. By the end of the chapter entitled "The Council of Elrond" I realised that "The Lord of the Rings" was something quite different, and from that moment the book fully entered my life and has remained there, frequently passive but from time to time very active indeed.

My father, I later discovered, had a similar fascination with the works of Charles Dickens and had belonged, in his youth, to the Dickens Society in Auckland. It was he who enabled me to fully engage my fascination with Middle-earth. As is so often the case with "series" book, the library did not have "The Two Towers" available once I had finished"The Fellowship of the Ring". "The Return of the King" was available and I borrowed it, cribbing from the synopsis what had gone before in Volume II. Thus I missed the marvellous Battle of Helms Deep, the fall of Saruman, the return of Gollum and the Passage through the Marshes and the entry to Mordor. When I decided that I wanted to re-read "The Lord of the Rings" a couple of years later, I was able to successfully prevail upon my father to give me the then princely sum of 4 guineas to purchase all three volumes, and I realised what I had missed. Thereafter, I read "The Lord of the Rings" each year.

I recall in the summer of 1965 seeing a paperback trilogy of "The Lord of the Rings" for sale in the University bookshop at Stanford University. "Tolkien-mania" had hit the United States, and swept the world. I found that when Tolkien fans gathered, a test of one's devotion to the text would be the ability to answer questions that sought more and more obscure knowledge of "The Lord of the Rings" as the evening wore on and the beer consumption increased. This ritual was to stand me in good stead later.

In 1977 "The Silmarillion" was released. This was a significant event for me, although for many it was a disappointment. Those who were seeking a novel were confronted with a narrative mythology that was not easy for many readers. Yet "The Silmarillion" provided an essential foundation for an understanding of Tolkien's work, and more importantly gave life to the depth that had pervaded "The Lord of the Rings".

In 1980 I decided to try my hand at the TV quiz show, "Mastermind". The format was straightforward. There were two rounds for each contestant.  Each contestant nominated a specialist subject and was required to answer as many questions as possible within two minutes. The contestant could "pass" on questions to which the answer was not known. A wrong answer meant that time was consumed while the quizmaster gave the correct one. The second round comprised two minutes of general knowledge questions. This was the leveller. the winner from the elimination rounds would proceed to the semi-finals. The two top scorers from the semi-finals went on to the finals. One extra wrinkle was that if one hit the semi-final, one had to change specialist subjects but could revert to the original subject in the finals. My first specialist subject was "The Lord of the Rings" and my second was the Third Crusade to the Middle East (1189-1191). The quizmaster was an extraordinarily bright TV and radio announcer named Peter Sinclair who sadly passed away some years ago and who wrote a computer column for the New Zealand Herald. Here are the questions from the elimination and the final.

I won the New Zealand competition in 1980 and as a result won a trip to London. In addition I was to represent New Zealand at the International Mastermind competition in Sydney, Australia in 1981. Again I competed, with "The Lord of the Rings" as a specialist subject. There were four contestant, so it was a "sudden death" affair, and once again I was successful.

I subsequently travelled to London with my wife, and had the great pleasure of meeting Rayner Unwin and spending some time over lunch with him. It was an honout to meet the man for whom Tolkien was a protege, and to have him share his reminiscenes with me. I had had a niggling thought that I might like to write something about the Ring and mentioned this to Mr. Unwin and I was even more surprised to be asked to send anything I wrote to him. That I did and ultimately "The Song of Middle-earth - J.R.R.Tolkien's Themes, Symbols and Myths"  was published in 1985. It was a little more than the piece I had originally wanted to write on The Ring. I became immersed in the mythology and found that "The Silmarillion" became the principle work for analysis. The article on the Ring followed in 1993.

Since then, I have not re-opened "The Lord of the Rings". I have followed with interest "The History of Middle-earth" series, the first volume of which (The Book of Lost Tales 1)came out just as I had finished the manuscript for "The Song" and references to which I was able, somewhat hastily, to include in the publication.

J.R.R. Tolkien has provided me with enjoyment, wonder, fascination, fame, a completed book and a corpus of work which is fascinating in its entirity. "Tales from the Perilous Realm", his wonderful translations of "Finn and Hengest" and "Gawain and the Green Knight", his essays, especially "The Monster and the Critics", and his Letters (edited by Humphrey Carpenter) have provided me with great joy and stimulation.

I still have the trilogy my father funded in 1960. Perhaps it is time for another journey...............

And now the story continues. The above comments were written in 2000 - 12 years ago - and since then there has been an enormous flurry of activity in the Tolkien world, mainly as a result of the superb adaptations by Peter Jackson of the "Lord of the Rings" (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King) and now "The Hobbit" the first film of which - AN Unexpected Journey  - was released recently.

There is a torrent of discussion on blogs and fora about whether or not the integrity of the Tolkien vision has been maintained. I must confess that I have an interest in the movies bnecause I was asked to consult on LOTR and I guess I have something of a vested interest at least in the first trilogy. The first point that must be made is that the movies are Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien's vision. To keep all the audience happy is an almost impossible task because the reading experience, especially for the aficionados, is an intensely subjective experience and preconceptions abound, especially when the reader's vision has been formed over a period of time. I always worked on the position that Jackson may be on target but not, as Frodo said "in the gold".And it went from there. One factor that Jackson had that Tolkien didn't was that he could add to the atmosphere. I recall my first reading of LOTR and being terrified at the first appearance of a Black Rider (Fellowship Book 1 Ch 3 "Three's Company" "Round the corner camae a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full sized horse") Would it be possible for Jackson to capture the terror of that first encounter. Not quite. But there were other moments - the realisation of Rivendell and Lorien, the portrayal of Elrond and Galadriel, the use of eathereal music to emphasise the "otherworldly" nature of the Eldar, the land of Rohan and the rough heroism of the Rohirrim. And another part of Jackson's genius is the ability to extrapolate. There was one thing that happened as the Rohirrim arrived at the Siege of Minas Tirith. Theoden gives his battle orders and his address to the troops - a sword day, a red day and a sun rising - chilling lump in the throat stuff - and then gallops along the front line touching speartips with his sword point. Never happened in the book. Totally consistent with Rohirrim culture. The scene is here. And then Theoden follows it with  "Ride now, ride now, ride to ruin and the Wortld's ending! DEATH!" Perhaps my favourite four minutes of the whole trilogy. It can be seen here .

There are other "lump in the throat" moments - one in particular is the farewell to Middle-earth at the Grey Havens.

So were there to be any similar moments in "The Hobbit." Yes there were. Apart from the visualisation of the back stories - the Kingdom of Erebor and the arrival of Smaug and the story of how Thorin received the name Oakenshield at Azanulbizar - the first sight of Rivendell was almost like a return home, and the spirit-like beauty of Galadriel was rendered better in "The Hobbit" that it was in LOTR. I saw "The Hobbit" at IMAX and look forward to seeing it again in 48 fps and HD. Pity I have to wait a year or 2 for the next instalments. AT my age, nothing is guaranteed any more.