I spent the evening of December 31 with my family at the Spaghetti Factory celebrating my son’s forty-fourth birthday. We’ve been going there for such occasions since he was young and it’s a familiar place.
We exchanged the usual hellos when we got there. Then, as always we began to explore our common geography. In the past that exploration hasn’t always been pleasant for one of the other of us. There have been tears. Accusations. Grudges aired and usually forgiven. But on the day in question our conversation focused not directly on each other, but on Middle Earth.
My first encounter with it came through reading The Lord of the Rings in 1967. I was working at an international school in Frankfurt, Germany then. I passed my love of that story on to my children and now it’s my forty-nine year old daughter who is the expert on all things Tolkienian.
She and my two teen-aged grandchildren had just seen the movie, The Hobbit. She said she liked it better than the first film in The Ring series because she had problems with the way Frodo was portrayed. We all weighed in on the subject. Then we moved on.
Why, my son wondered, did they leave Tom Bombadil out of the movie? We all agreed we’d missed seeing him. My grandson, a budding scientist, wanted to know what kind of being Tom Bombadil was and where he fit into the classification of Middle Earth creatures. My granddaughter, more philosophically wanted to know if the idea for the book sprang from myth. And if so, which ones.
We didn’t assign characters from Tolkien’s masterpiece to each other, although if we had, I would have cast my son as Frodo because of the burden of mental illness he’s carried courageously for so long.
When I got home I thought about how my children and I carry the map of our family with us wherever we go. We have our collective Shires and Mount Dooms. Our Rivendels. Our Mines of Moria. And we’ve passed them on, sometimes unwittingly to the next generation. As they will undoubtedly pass them on again.
The stories we love and tell will outlive us. It’s important to make sure they’re good ones.