Mountains on the Journey
It seems my procrastination knows no bounds these days. I have been intending to post another update for about a month, now, and either something always crowded it out of my mind or else my laziness convinced me that I'd do it "tomorrow." Well, after a whole lot of tomorrows, I finally decided that I couldn't begin my regular work for today until I posted this.
That said, I'm proud that I can report good progress on my Tolkien biography. I was writing about a chapter a week until a couple of weeks ago, when I hit a wall. This time, though, it wasn't about procrastination but about the difficulty of writing adequately about Tolkien's experiences during World War I. I've seen plenty of movies and read plenty of books to give me sufficient mental images of this period, but the complexity of Tolkien's life during this period has daunted me. In 1914, the year the war began, he saw his future wife confirmed in the Catholic Church, became officially engaged, began his final year of undergraduate studies in Oxford, began writings that would eventually blossom into his invented world of Middle-earth, joined the Officers' Training Corp on campus to prepare for eventual enlistment, participated in the final and most important meeting of his high school club, the T.C.B.S., and more events that I am forgetting. All that was just in 1914! In addition, 1915 and 1916 were also important years in his life, leaving me to wonder how I am ever going to finish this book within the allowed word count, let alone cover these sensitive years in a way that is appropriate and interesting for middle grade readers. He didn't even start writing The Hobbit until 1930! It is tempting to skip forward through the war, but I've realized that I actually must slow down due to its profound impact on his life. I do not want to skip anything that contributed to his development as a Catholic and Oxford don or to his creation of Middle-earth, Bilbo, and the One Ring.
The tentative conclusion I reached last week--and one that I hope will be realistic and acceptable--is that I will need to conclude the book with the publication of The Hobbit and add an epilogue about how The Lord of the Rings came about, which happened many years later. I will also need a "What happened after that?" informational section, such as what I added to the von Trapp biography. There is no way for me to cover in details the many decades following The Hobbit, and to be honest, I don't think kids would find it particularly interesting. The main drama of Tolkien's life and the experiences that led him to the creation of the Middle-earth sagas happened early in his life. For most of his career he was just an ordinary Oxford don with little to distinguish him from other Oxford dons. Only friends like C.S. Lewis had glimpses of the genius he really was.
And onward I go, continuing on this journey that has suddenly become steeply uphill. But I know the view from the top will be beautiful!
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Author of Before Austen Comes Aesop: The Children's Great Books and How to Experience Them and Maria von Trapp and Her Musical Family