The summer before I started kindergarten, my father (a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy at that time who would soon be gone for six months on his own adventure) began reading a chapter of The Hobbit to me each night before putting me to bed. Yes, for a few glorious weeks of childhood, The Hobbit was my bedtime story. My father created a distinctive voice for each character, made up tunes for all the lyrics, and joyfully sang all the songs in his deep bass. He was (and still is) a self-taught Tolkien scholar, and throughout the narrative, he provided interesting facts gleaned from the appendix of The Lord of the Rings or other Tolkien books like The Silmarillion. He spoke in Elvish at times during the day or at dinner (and still does), and the story of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, the 13 dwarves (not dwarfs—read your Tolkien), and the dragon Smaug became real to me, like an actual part of history.
This early introduction into all things fantasy encouraged me to develop quite an imagination. I no longer spent my time riding around on my Big Wheel or bicycle or roller-skating up and down the driveway. Instead, I set out alone or with friends and headed into any woods I could find. I fashioned a nice, long branch to be my walking stick/magical staff, and I called what I was doing exploring. I often got very lost. I had no sense of direction and paid little attention to my surroundings, and I certainly didn’t care where I was as long as I was home in time for dinner. I was armed with a slingshot and black walnuts (my father told me not to shoot people; my mother told me not to shoot animals), and I kept an eye out for snakes, fire-ant hills, and quicksand. I created my own imaginary scenarios: I would be the first to discover what lay at the bottom of that ditch (yellow jackets—36 stings); I would follow the secret trail across the river, which eventually led to a lumberyard guarded by a mean dog on a chain—Warg! “Fly, you fools!”
From The Hobbit, I learned the importance of being clever, and I worked logic puzzles and brain teasers to strengthen my wit. (I must be prepared to solve riddles at the drop of a hat!) I kept an eye out for secret passages and hidden doors. My father told me that if the measurements of the outside of the house came out to be larger than the inside measurements, then there was likely a secret passage to be discovered inside. I was disappointed when all those tiny doors and panels in the backs of closets or under the stairs led only to plumbing, hot water heaters, or electrical wiring. My father was disappointed when he could never find his tape measure.
As an adult, I am aware that nothing I do in life will ever live up to the more important and dramatic things I can imagine. I likely won’t save the world from an evil necromancer, or even save a small village from a dragon. I probably won’t find a secret passageway. (I may make one of my own someday when I’m not worried about the resale value of my home.) Instead, I have embraced the next best occupation within my capabilities: publishing. Perhaps a ghost-story collection or a history book about the real-life explorer and adventurer Daniel Boone will alter or influence someone else’s path in life. After all, as Tolkien says, “All have their worth, and each contributes to the worth of others” (The Silmarillion).