Happy Birthday, sir.
You probably don’t remember me since I never took a class with you while you lived. Neither have I sat in the lecture auditorium at Oxford, nor a tutorial in your office.
But I consider myself a student of yours nonetheless. I have read most of your books (got a bit lost on the more obscure ones to be honest) several times, watched the movies (though I’m not sure you would give academic credit for that), and read numerous books about you and your work.
When I write, I see you as someone to emulate, someone who has set the standard. It is not just you of course, please don’t get ahead of yourself; there is Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, and some new kids on the block: Christopher Paolini, George R.R. Martin, and Patrick Rothfuss – you would approve of the former, and latter, I am sure.
But as much as I admire them, when faced with an issue writing one of my books, I pause and try and imagine what a certain old Oxford professor would advise me to do.
But while your books are legendary, your world-building stunning, and your ability to create languages are simply mind-boggling, what amazes me is that you had it in you in the first place: an academic, a somewhat upper-crust Englishman, a traditionalist, a Christian, and a war veteran. Was it the latter? Was what you witnessed on the battlefields of Europe in the First World War the seeds for LOTR? Was this the only way you could find to express the struggle of good .v. evil?
What happened that fine summer day as you marked term papers? Were you bored? Looking forward to a vacation? Had a pint too many of Eastfarthing at lunch? When you stared at that blank sheet of paper a student had accidentally inserted, what made you scribble: In a hole in the ground there lives a hobbit…
Whatever possessed you, sir, changed the world of epic fantasy forever. Perhaps you should have heeded the advice you gave dear Frodo: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
I hope you are sitting in a pub up there in heaven, surrounded by wonderful friends – elves, dwarves, hobbits, and even a few humans, most likely friends from The Inklings. and raising a glass to celebrate his 123rd birthday.
This student thanks you for everything you gave him as a reader and taught him as an author. A very happy twelvety-first birthday, sir! And to celebrate, here is a rendition of Happy Birthday in elvish, the language you created, one word at a time. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition!
Happy Birthday Professor – Oronnad meren allen!
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, is the latest in the series. The story continues.
Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter(@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+