Musings

A Letter to the Dead Author Who Inspired Me to Write

To J.R.R. Tolkien,

You had already been dead for 33 years by time I read The Hobbit and immersed myself in Bilbo’s world. I was ten.

I was ten and had decided that I wanted to craft words the way you did, write them on pages and pages and create characters I could fall in love with—characters the world could fall in love with. Behind Bilbo, I walked through Middle Earth. Explored Bag-End and the Misty Mountains, traveled through Mirkwood to the Lonely Mountain. Stood, enchanted as the dwarves sang of their gold that had long ago been stolen by Smaug.

I wished to be in that world, and so I created my own. My first short story clocked in at 14 pages single-spaced. (Nothing compared to the treasure that is The Hobbit, but it was my own.) Unfortunately, I lost all trace of that story when I switched school buildings. It had been saved on my middle school account, and faded into the black when I became a freshman.

I lost every piece of creative writing I had done, in fact. Every diary entry from an animal’s perspective, every childish poem, every mini-story I had written and loved. Gone. The one I cared for most was a mysterious Chapter 20 of The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. It was my final project for the book, and I was the only one who had chosen to write. I remember thinking that it was my chance, my chance to write down what I wished had followed the final chapter and what I had wanted to happen in that world.

I wanted to fabricate words the way you did.

And from that piece, from the 14-page short story I had written and lost, began a long string of pieces that I kept tucked away in folders. I didn’t want anyone else to see them—only to treasure them in secret, keep them in my back pocket for when I wanted to feel proud.

Come to think of it, I wrote a lot of pieces that mimicked other work in order to find my voice (most of which were done during high school years). I would have liked to have kept those, too. Did you get a chance to read J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye in your later years? I hope you did. When we finished that book in tenth grade, the teacher challenged us to take a modern day story and rewrite it with Holden Caulfield’s voice. I’m not sure I could do it again now if I tried, but the piece was part of my exploration (just like your work was is).

Holden’s voice never stuck, though. While I admired Salinger’s style (and thought it fun to read), it wasn’t a groove I wanted to stay in. And now in college, I’ve gone back through my collector’s edition of The Hobbit, remembering all the reason I fell in love with Middle Earth and all the reasons I should have taken the time to read Lord of the Rings. (I will one day soon, don’t worry.)

Yours is a style that has been etched in my brain, a style that I’ve absorbed into my own and used in pieces of Creative Nonfiction—which, I might add, has been complimented and said to possess remnants of your voice.

My edition of The Hobbit, with gold-trimmed pages and a leather cover, is currently tucked away inside my lockbox. I pulled it out again to write this piece, to peruse your style once more as I fell in love with it all over again. You inspired me to write, Tolkien. And though I will never stop hoping and wanting to meet you, I know that it isn’t possible for our paths to cross. It isn’t possible for me to find you on the street and have my copy signed.

You were gone before I existed, but I will always hold your work treasured, perched on the bookshelves of whatever house I may one day live in.

K.S. Hufford

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