I am one of those people who needs a mental home in which to anchor my soul, and for 27 years, more even than Narnia, or ancient Egypt, or the U.S.S. Enterprise, or the TARDIS, or the Liberator, or Babylon 5, Middle-Earth has been that place. I have been reading Tolkien all that time, and so it is more familiar than any of the places I have lived.
So my first answer is: a home for the heart.
My second answer is what so many people say: it is huge. It encompasses so much, and every time I get to the "end" I discover more. Once it was The Hobbit and those very difficult books LOTR my mother had to help me read. Then LOTR became the main world, The Hobbit, a fun memory of my childhood. Then I started into the Appendices, some of which I confess I still haven't read through completely (the language parts), and embarked on the vast sea of the Silmarillion, which after ten years I have not mastered. And now, in the last six months, I have finally discovered that I was standing on the tip of the iceberg, and there is HOME and Letters and UT and so much more to explore. The world has opened out. I am sure it will take me the rest of my life for those places to become as familiar as the Last Homely House of the Hobbit, or Bag-end, or the names of Aragorn, or how many pennies it cost Barliaman Butterbur to buy Bill the Pony. Oh brave new world that has such wonders in it!
And it is a beautiful and amazing and intricate and complex world, with many wondrous and fascinating things, places, events, histories, words, names, ideas, characters.
So my second answer is: exploration.
My next answer stems from the fact that it is great epic, mythology, poetry, and literature. I love the layers and levels of symbolism, the archetypes, the ring cycles of Beren and Lúthien, Aragorn and Arwen. I love the themes of the fading elves, of temptation, of the Wise, of the little simple people becoming heroes (the hobbits), of magical things fading or becoming scarce in the world of men, of the powers of trees and light and swords, of loyalty and devotion, of obsession and arrogance, of Kings and Builders, Sages and Swordswomen, the Fallen Great, the Noble Servant, the Innkeeper and the Wild Man (Beorn and Bombadil), of eagles and swans, of tea and pipes and the everyday forced to deal with huge events. There is so much history. There is so much of true tales here. There is so much of every type of adventure, tragedy, love story, monster, kind words, eloquent speeches, terrible choices, non-happy-endings, things to think about and contemplate and believe in. Tolkien set about to make a mythology for Britain. He succeeded. I am a lover and student of mythology and ancient epic, and here are both in great bounty.
So my third answer is: mythology.
And then we come to the characters themselves, and the geographical locations, which in some ways are also characters with their own histories, personalities, names. Frodo and Sam are old friends, and I delight in watching them look after each other, lean on each other's strengths. Aragorn is a complex hero, the great king, and yet those gentle ways he treats the hobbits, protecting the Shire from the shadows, or bantering words with Merry in the houses of Healing, or showing his strength against Sauron, or lamenting when all he does goes amiss-- he is still a man, albeit a great man, and the world is not full enough of heroes for us to love. Ditto for Faramir, whose nobility and beautiful manner of speaking are marvellous. There are the elves whom we all love, and the singing archer of Mirkwood whom I adored as a kid and adore now because the screen has made him beautiful, lethal, and more intense than the laughing elf I remember. There are the hobbits like Bilbo and Rosie and Maggot that we love for being themselves, not remarkable, but believable. There's Gandalf, the old fun conjuror of fireworks to the hobbits, who is really something quite fantastic, yet never puts on airs: a guardian spirit, willing to sacrifice everything to take care of a world that does not know his greatness. There's Smaug, who has more personality than a hundred D&D monsters put together; when's the last time a monster had such great lines? There's the wise and stately Elrond of the books, Galadriel who most certainly is worshipful and gives gifts of such understanding to those who are in her care for so short a time, Celeborn the wise whose part is brief but whose wisdom I did notice. There's Théoden, the frail old man who comes out of his despair to do great things, a lovable old king, and his brave sister-son and sister-daughter. How many of these characters are also beautiful? Nothing wrong with that; it makes us love them too.
And then there are the more conflicted characters like Sméagol-Gollum, whom you must pity as well as loathe, or Denethor, a great man felled by his own need to protect his realm and his patriotism which blinds him to the needs of others; ditto for his son Boromir in a different way, ditto for Saruman who was once great and fell. And to a lesser extent there's Otho and Grima. They are fascinating, even if we fear them and in some cases are very glad they got what they deserved.
I could wax eloquent about the beauty of Rivendell and the sadness of Lórien, the wondrous dark fearful wood of Mirkwood where yet elves dwell, and all the other great locations that are fixed in our minds like treasured possessions, but it'd take too long: and the films, whatever else one can say about them, did fair justice to bringing those stunning locations to life. We believe in those places. We love them, as much as their inhabitants.
So my fourth answer is: very old friends.
Then there are the moments and adventures and stories. Now I have Bilbo hopping and singing Attercop and pegging spiders. Now there's Frodo defying the Wraiths at the fords, and the waters rising. Now there is Galadriel holding up her hand in a gesture of defiance against Sauron and Dol Guldur. Now there's Gandalf on the bridge at Khazad-dum, breaking the stone beneath him, or Frodo on the brink of the Cracks of Doom, finally succombing to a power greater than his will, Sauron turning to see the truth at last, the Ringwraiths speeding towards Orodruin, too late, too late... Thorin on his deathbed. Gandalf Tea Wednesday, and Bilbo's unexpected visitors singing "over the Misty Mountains cold" with all their instruments. Beren putting his hand in the mouth of that dreadful hound. Saruman's ghost rising up, reaching for the west, and being blown away. Sam by his master's side after the battle with Shelob. Gollum's moment of love for Frodo, asleep, when he almost turns away from his path. Gandalf about to leap out of the burning tree onto the goblins and wargs in The Hobbit. Aragorn drawing the broken sword on Sam. The Paths of the Dead. On and on and on. How many of these magical adventures have won our hearts? I never get tired of reliving them, and with these new books, I have more adventures to experience, discover.
So my fifth answer is: memorable moments.
And finally there's the words themselves. I love Tolkien's use of language in each of his different periods of writing style. I am a scholar of ancient things. I love the bardic art. I rejoice every time I read these books again, even though many of these lines I know by heart: "if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated." What a way with words! And the British spellings and punctuations also make me smile, which is a silly reason, but nevertheless it's there-- I'm one of those poor Anglophile Americans who can never get enough of listening to Patrick Stewart and Diana Rigg and even the least Dr. Who or Blake's 7 bit part because they have British accents which I find superior to my own. Back to Tolkien, there's also his love of poetry. Oh, I like poetry, and how many postAuthorIDs dare throw poems into their stories as freely as he does? It's not customary anymore, so they're rare treats. Finally, and more recently, of course, there's the names and the created languages. And for that I have Peter Jackson to thank. Not knowing HOME, I didn't realize there was actually enough Elvish floating about to learn and study it. That Helen Keller moment in the Two Towers, when Legolas whispered, "Hiro hîdh hyn ab 'wanath," and suddenly I understood it -- not simply mentally translating it into English, but understanding the Elvish straight into my brain -- made me start crying right in the theater. And now I'm going back into Tolkien, as time allows, delving ever more deeply into the beauty of Sindarin, drinking it in like fine mead, seeing the depths of the tales augmented by the meanings of place and character names, noting where Silvan or Sindarin or Quenya come into play -- yet another layer of richness has come into these books for me. Sindarin it is for now, and someday, no doubt, I'll begin to soak up Quenya too. Words! Words are treasures beyond price for a writer and a poet and a bard! I am only a novice on the ladder where Tolkien has climbed far closer to heaven, but he lets me look up!
So my final answer is: Words, words to treasure.
For these reasons Tolkien is and always will be the greatest force and source of delight in my mind, my thoughts, besides my own Muse, and in many ways, greater.
(and someday, I'm going to startle you all by writing a brief post.)nn[Edited on 5/8/03 by sepdet]