One weekend, back in 1977, a friend and his folks took me out to see “Star Wars” in the cinema. I hadn’t visited my friend with any inkling that he and his parents would take me to my first movie. It just happened, and in so doing, changed my life forever. It impacted how I saw the world, what I judged as important, and the type of stories I henceforth sought out. Still, when it came to storytelling, reading has always been (and I suspect, always will be) my first love.
My most vivid recollection from the Eighth Grade was all my book reports. What I lacked in technical skills, I made up for by submitting reports on each book I read. I can’t imagine what my English teacher thought, but she read each one I wrote, and gave me extra credit for all of them, even if she had only assigned us four or eight, and I turned in over twenty. I can’t tell you all the novels I read that year, but I remember that my expectations of stories changed after seeing “Star Wars.” Now every story had to be a little bolder, and possess more grandeur, than had previously been the case.
One of my friends was the Eighth Grade Class President, and I had helped him win his electoral campaign by making posters and hanging them around the school. In addition to hanging out during the week, we occasionally spent weekends at his house, enjoying conversations and embarking on adventures together. During those weekends, he loaned me a paperback: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Despite my suspicions to the contrary, he assured me I would enjoy it, and so I opened the cover and started read. He was right. Tolkien’s novel wasn’t anything like “Star Wars,” or the other books I had read, regardless of genre. Yet I fell in love with his characters, his world of Middle Earth, and the way he wrote. It’s the first time I can remember noticing how an author’s writing style could flow, could draw me into a story, and be beautiful in its own right.
And so, my friend in the Eighth Grade surprised me with a story that met my heightened expectations of a novel, by handing me a book that was different in every way from the movie I loved. But that’s the way of life, isn’t it? So often, it’s the things we either stumble across, or others thrust into our hands—things we neither planned nor sought--that often prove the most important to us later on. Just like “Star Wars.”
Incredibly, it would take thirty-five years until a filmmaker named Peter Jackson could make a movie version of The Hobbit capable of sitting comfortably beside “Star Wars.” But that, as they say, is another blog post.