It Had Maps In It, They Said

I’ve been a fan of Discworld for several years running, but I only recently discovered Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction. His book A Slip of the Keyboard offers a wonderful glimpse inside one of the biggest, most imaginative brains to ever grace Elfland. One of my favorite bits is where he describes his first encounter with The Lord of the Rings. I believe Tolkien would smile if he were around to read it.

I can’t remember where I was when JFK was shot, but I can remember exactly where and when I was when I first read J.R.R. Tolkien. It was New Year’s Eve, 1961. I was babysitting for friends of my parents while they all went out to a party. I didn’t mind. I’d got this three-volume yacht-anchor of a book from the library that day. Boys at school had told me about it. It had maps in it, they said. This struck me at the time as a pretty good indicator of quality.

I’d waited a long time for this moment. I was that kind of kid, even then. What can I remember? I can remember the vision of beech woods in the Shire; I was a country boy, and the hobbits were walking through a landscape which, give or take the odd housing development, was pretty much the one I’d grown up in. I remember it like a movie.

There I was, sitting on this rather chilly sixties-style couch in this rather bare room; but at the edges of the carpet, the forest began. I remember the light as green, coming through the trees. I have never since then so truly had the experience of being inside the story. I can remember the click of the central heating going off and the room growing colder, but these things were happening on the horizon of my senses and weren’t relevant.

I can’t remember going home with my parents, but I do remember sitting up in bed until three a.m., still reading. I don’t recall going to sleep. I do remember waking up with the book on my chest, and finding my place, and going on reading. It took me, oh, about twenty-three hours to get to the end. (pp. 57-58)

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