I was browsing the other evening at Juxtabook's online shop C.L. Hawley Books when I spotted and quickly snapped up The Pleasure of Reading, edited by Antonia Fraser, a collection of pieces by forty authors revealing their reading, literary loves and favourite books from childhood onwards. Each essay is accompanied by specially commissioned illustrations (forty illustrators!), and with a range of contributors from Catherine Cookson to Janette Winterson, Tom Stoppard to Roger McGough, there's a wealth of material here for dipping into in an idle hour.
Reading A.S. Byatt's contribution just now, I saw that she lists Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings among her favourites "for reading when very ill or depressed: it is compelling narrative and there is no sex and no real moral problems to agitate the mind". In the body of her piece she says,
"I agree wholly with Tolkien and Auden in their dispute with Alan Garner about how to write about magical and alien worlds for children. The little groups of wandering Susans and Johns and Erics in their pyjamas and school sandals ruined many good imaginary landscapes and cosmic battles for me. I am too old to have read Tolkien as a child, but the child in me read and reads him as an adult in moments of depression, as I read Dumas and Asgard and the Gods [and see also Ragnarok, of course], to live in narrative."
I wondered who else among the authors was keen on Tolkien, and I found this by Ruth Rendell:
"Two years after The Hobbit was published I read it for the first time. Twenty years later I read it again and experienced just the same feeling of delight and happiness and a quite breathless pleasure. That first time, when I was nine, was also the first time I remember feeling this. It is a sensation known to all lovers of fiction and comes at about page two, when you know it's not only going to be good, but immensely satisfying, enthralling, not to be put down without resentment, drawing inexorably to a conclusion of power and dramatic soundness." [Lovely!]
Then I came to Alan Hollinghurst -
"Tolkien, of course, was a laboriously unamusing and I now think bad writer; but he was my obsession between the ages of twelve and fourteen. I took a poor view of The Hobbit but read The Lord of the Rings six times in successsion ... I remain aware of the deep feelings it nurtured in me - feelings about place in particular. All its most potent and plausible geography is English, and it conspired with the places where I had grown up ... to charge all those landscapes with a heroic, elegiac air. Doubtless I could have got this from other writers too; but as it happened I got it from the derivative fustian of Tolkien, and I feel it keenly still."
Solace, delight and depth of feeling, the authors I've quoted got much from Tolkien. Were you one of those who read his work voraciously as a youngster, and if so, have you gone back to him in adult life? My answer would be 'yes' and 'no' - though maybe I should revisit him - how about you?