An Unexpected Journey

 In honor of what’s happening tomorrow night (or, more specifically, early Thursday morning), I decided to share a journey of mine that’s near and dear to my heart.

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I’ve always been a voracious reader, so you know a book is good when it never leaves my “favorites” list.  You also know it’s good when I can vividly remember how I got acquainted with it.

Narnia was probably the first series that captured me like that.  It was my first true book love.  I can still remember my dad reading them to me before bed.  It took us years, but we finally worked our way through all six, a magical journey I’d love to relive.

The next books that caught me where children’s historical fiction: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Sign of the Beaver, Johnny Tremain, and Carry on, Captain Bowditch.  After those , I floundered in a sea of so-so tales before I lit upon Where the Red Fern Grows.

A year or two passed, and then I discovered the classics, especially Little Women and A Tale of Two Cities.  The first I was supposed to read for school, but it was so enthralling that I read it in less than half the time my mom had given me.  The latter was hard to continue until about halfway through.  Then I couldn’t read it fast enough and savored the ending with tears in my eyes and an aching heart.

I still remember all those books, the joy of discovering another treasure.  But more than any of those, I remember my first encounter with these books.

It was the summer after A Tale of Two Cities, and my mom suggested I read them to get a head start on school.  Plus, she said, they probably wouldn’t feel like school to me.   I trusted her judgement — she had, after alll, introduced me to all the above tales — so I agreed and packed the first book in my bag as we headed to the beach for summer vacation.

I still remember my room in the big beach house — huge, sprawling bed, windows opening to grassy dunes, light falling across the coral carpet on the floor.  I also remember the book — green paperback, library copy, adorned with the picture of a red dragon nestled in a pile of gold.  We’d just come back from swimming, and I had an afternoon at my leisure.

The introduction was kind of weird and made me a little wary.  It talked about languages and stuff that seemed a bit dull.  But then I fliipped to the first chapter and read the first line and, like so many others, fell headlong into an adventure I’ll never forget.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. 

For the next three days, I forgot about everything else — which is impressive, considering that we were are the beach, and I absolutely love the beach.  All I could think about was this story, this story unlike anything else I’d ever read.  It ended, leaving me breathless, tingling from the magic and majesty, and hungering for more.

Fortunately, there was more.  A lot more.  I remember telling my dad how much I loved it and him grinning at me.  “Oh, then you’ll love the series that comes after it.”  A series?  I was in heaven.

When we got back from vacation, it was time for school — no more afternoons of free time.  I didn’t care.  There was no way I was going to wait to continue the story.  I read a book a week; every time I went to my weekly acting practice, the kids would glance at the book in my hand and say, “A different one?  But hadn’t you just started another one last week?”.   Every second of spare time I spent curled up on my bed, staring at the words in the front of me.  Such words!  Never had I met a literary magician like this!  I copied down quotes furiously, the words running through my mind throughout the day.  It was literally all I could think about, this series — as I labored over math, as I chewed my lunch, as I chatted with friends and family, my mind was far away, in a land of swift rivers and sweet songs, of terrible darkness and stunning light.

Then it ended.  But no — it couldn’t end!  I read the last words, once again with tears in my eyes and a horribly painful lump in my throat.  Such beauty … They say some people are meant for only one person, and that there will never be another, even if their love is spurned.  It was that way for me with this series.  There would never be another that would touch me like this.  I also believe that no two books impact you quite the same way, so perhaps that isn’t really a meaningful statement.  Still, it’s undeniable: these books  are different.

Well, I’ve gone on for long enough.  Suffice it to say that soon I discovered the movies and fell in love with the stories all over again, their beauty brought to life through a whole new medium.

And now … now it is coming to an end, this journey I never expected when my mom advised me to get ahead on school reading.  In a way, it will never end, for I can always reread the books, relisten to the music, rewatch the movies.  But in a way, this is the last good-bye.  All those years of discovery and of anticipation are coming down to this last movie.  Some hate the new movies, some have dismal forebodings.  I too have my worries.  But regardless, there is something very sweet — something painfully bitter-sweet — about this last one .   To me, it marks the end of a journey that’s drawn me closer to God, inspired my writing, and given me a glimpse of heaven on earth.

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