Teenage me devoured the book opposite, I was in the middle of a science fiction phase which included Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Azimov, Harry Harrison and Robert Heinlein. That would then lead me on to Michael Moorcock and the music of the early 70s most associated with the genre (Yes, Genesis, King Crimson et al) I had read The Hobbit a year or two before as a natural successor to my childhood favourites of Alan Garner, Susan Cooper and of course, the world of Narnia. But the trilogy would prove the biggest challenge of my short life so far.
This is the edition I owned. First published in one paperback volume by Unwin in 1978 it was read before school, after school, at the weekend and on holidays. Did I understand it all? Probably not but I wanted to and that was the point, I wanted the challenge of reading a monumental novel as a marker for a period in my life and this was it. I can mark out much of my life to date via books and genres, some episodes lasted longer than others. My science fiction period was relatively short lived whilst travel writing has never ended and never will.
So now, decades later I find myself with this book in my hands once again. But why? Have I developed a sudden yearning to revisit Tolkein? No, not especially although I might. There’s a hundred books waiting in line to serve as potential life markers so that’s not it. Last week, as I rummaged through a box of books in an old secondhand bookshop I saw a copy of The Two Towers and it prompted a memory of my copy of the omnibus above. The memories came flooding back and I knew then that until I had a copy of that same edition I wouldn’t rest. Unsurprisingly copies of the Unwin edition are not cheap and having been offered a discount I snapped one up.
As soon as I opened the wrapping paper and held the book I knew it was money well spent. It looked and felt exactly how I had remembered it and those memories of carefree school days brought a warming smile to my face. I have seen many editions of these books, including fine copies of the first editions but none have ever captured my imagination in the way this did. Almost eleven hundred pages thick, browning paper like only those from the 70s and before can offer I am now increasingly minded to read it again with older and possibly wiser eyes. So why do we do it because I know I am not alone. Is it a yearning for simpler times and thus a reflection of where we find ourselves now? Possibly. There is no doubt that I often think of times gone by and to an extent mourn certain aspects of life in decades past but it’s also something else I believe. Some things are just simply better than others and books are a brilliant example of that, especially those which have been published in various formats over many years. Maybe that’s why publishers such as Penguin have reverted (successfully) to retro covers? Could it be that we have overdosed on high-definition, instantaneous perfection and want something less polished? Something more tactile which challenges our imagination like books, toys and games once did? I hope so because it matters.
This book is loved and hated in equal measure but that’s not the point. There is a good chance I will abandon reading this before book one is over and that’s ok. Because I have managed, for a fleeting moment to recapture a piece of my precious childhood and whenever I glance at the books spine on my bookshelf I will feel that inner smile and that is why I am and will always be, a book collector.
Categories: The Reading Room