St. Augustine School, Des Moines
Dear J.R.R. Tolkien,
As the wind howls outside and the thunder roars, I sit inside in front of the fireplace, curled up under a blanket, reading a book. I feel like I'm Sam or Frodo, sitting in Bag End in front of the hearth, listening to Bilbo's stories. But, even though I've read this story too many times to count, each time I unearth something new and surprising about myself. This story is a mirror held up to my face by the hands offate.
The first time I read The Lord of the Rings, I read it for enjoyment. I skimmed the surface like an ice skater on ice at the Olympics. But the second time, I saw something different. Gone was the ice skater, gone were the Olympics. They were replaced instead with an understanding, the type of understanding that comes with reading the same story again and unearthing a theme beneath all the words.
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is on a quest to destroy the One Ring and to rid the world of evil and the Dark Lord Sauron. His journey takes him from his home, the quiet, out-of-the-way town of Hobbiton, through Elf dwellings, murky marshes, dark mountain passes, and finally to the very heart of Sauron's evil land and the Mountain of Doom. Frodo meets many people along the way who help and guide him, but above all those people he has his constant companion and best friend, Sam. Sam is always there for Frodo, even when no one else is. His loyalty is incredible. He is always present to encourage Frodo to believe in himself. As I sat, curled up under my blankets, reading the story of Sam and Frodo, I couldn't help but pause, in the very act of turning a page, and think about how Sam and Frodo's friendship compared to the friendships in my own life.
At the time, I couldn't say I had a friendship, or at least not a stable one. You see, my friends and I had been divided by some rumors that were circulating about some of us. And, in the ever-so-true words of Benjamin Franklin, "Divided we fall." Yes, things weren't going well. There was a lot of internal fighting, gossiping, rumors going on in my previously stable friendship circle. I was secretly panicking that we'd all go our own ways without even apologies, and I'd be left alone without any friends. Reading about Sam and Frodo's friendship helped me realize how to start mending this tear in the fabric of my life.
Friendships are based partly on whether you like someone or not, but mostly on having a shoulder to lean on, a support structure of people who are kind to you and want to see you succeed. This theme is demonstrated many times throughout The Lord of the Rings, like when Eowyn and Merry have to work together to kill the Witch-King or when Sam carries Frodo up the last stretch of their journey to Mt. Doom. This kind of support is beautiful because it is done out of goodness of the heart and desire to help another without expecting payment in return. I drew on this to mend my friendship life. I started to encourage people to be nicer and more supportive to everyone in general. I made friends with some girls in my class who didn't have that kind, caring support team that makes life a whole lot easier. One of these such girls actually turned out to become one of my very best friends!
But you cannot bring aid to some people sometimes, as sad as that is. You cannot reach out and touch the famine victim from Somalia or the genocide refugee from Rwanda. There is pain and suffering, so much pain and suffering in this world that I only realized it fully after I read your book. I saw the massacres on the Plains of Rohan like I could touch them and felt the pain of the loved ones of the victims of the final attempt to retake Osgiliath. It was horrifying, and I made the connection quickly enough to simply drop the book in dumb amazement, staring out my window as if a murderer would come waltzing by any minute.
I decided I wanted to take steps against suffering in my own community (a place I had always felt was secure from poverty because we were out of the way of pretty much any natural disaster and the area of town where I lived was rather nice.) I made bags of old toys in my room to give away, donated more coats to the coat drive, and gave food and money to homeless shelters and the food pantry. I'm not pretending that my efforts are making a huge difference in the world, mind you, but it's making a difference in some people's lives, and in mine, and I have learned to treasure that.
Maybe that is the treasure I always know I will find when I open The Lord of the Rings. Maybe it's not the adventures, the action, my favorite characters, or my favorite scenes. It's what comes out of the book, the aftermath that lingers in your head, that is the real treasure from this book.
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's a stormy night and I've gotten to a particularly good part in my book.