The Books That Changed My Life

For The Scottish Book Trust

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I can’t remember exactly what age I was when my parents introduced me to this book. I loved the Narnia stories, but had grown out of them. I was reading Stephen King’s horrors, as well as novels like The Silver Sword, Watership Down and loads of war comics. I was handed this knackered old book, the size of a brick, its pages battered, its cover held on with sellotape. I had loved The Hobbit, but this didn’t look promising.

There was no hype around it at the time. Peter Jackson’s superb films were far in the future. This book was old news – it had been out for over twenty years. There was nothing to prepare me for what I was about to read.

After the first chapter I was absolutely hooked. The four hobbits were ordinary people thrown into a world of battle-scarred warriors and dangerous, toxic magic. Frodo was the official hero, but I preferred Sam, with his sense of humour, his loyalty and simple wisdom. Aragorn the Ranger, Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf were all hardcore. And JK Rowling’s Dumbledore will always be a shadow of the original master wizard: Gandalf.

The hobbits set off with their companions, along with the brave, but flawed, Boromir, to destroy the One Ring. The ring that holds the soul of the Dark Lord Sauron. They have to travel to a volcano in the very heart of Mordor, a dead and terrifying land. Along the way, they do battle with orcs, trolls, a Balrog, submerged ghosts, a giant spider and the horrifying Ringwraiths. They face selfishness, deception, treachery and fear. They encounter mysterious elves, an undead army, giant tree-like Ents and an unforgettable, split-personality scoundrel named Gollum.

By today’s standards, the story has some flaws. Written in a time when books didn’t have to compete with games and television, there are parts of it that can seem long-winded, overly descriptive. I always skipped past the songs. There are critics who claim that The Lord of the Rings is not ‘literature’, perhaps because it has monsters, magic, strange names and so many action scenes. But can there be a difference between literature and fantastic storytelling?

The extraordinary, gritty depth of Tolkien’s world, described in evocative language with superbly-defined characters, humour, high drama and human detail – and loads of violent action – all combine to make this a truly awesome book. I discovered it as a young boy; a story that was already decades old, wrapped in a knackered cover, its words printed on pages that were yellowing and falling from their binding. It cast a spell over me – I was desperate for the characters to succeed in their quest, but I never wanted the story to end.

This was why I wanted to write. I wanted to create stories that made people feel the way I felt when I read The Lord of the Rings.