Sunday, August 17, 2008

Danger is my Middle Name

I was slap dab in the middle of one of the biggest adventures of my young life. I had no idea living could be this exciting and each day after school brought more drama than the previous. Not being a stranger to dangerous undertakings and being of sound mind and body, I welcomed the day's challenge. I guess you could say I was anxious to get on with it.

The year was 1970, I was seventeen and thanks to my sister I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and epic trilogy "The Lord of the Rings". These 4 books collectively were about 1500 pages and were a reading obstacle the size of the Great Wall of China in my young mind. However, as all readers of thick books learn, if it's worth reading, it is probably going to end all too soon.

Down the street from my home was an abandoned two-story house with overgrown shrubbery and deep fluffy buffalo grass. On the other side of the hedge row, it was totally private and removed from all but street noise and allowed me a rapid transition to Middle Earth. My routine was as deliberate as a speeding arrow on its way to a target. Each day after I got off the school bus, I would grab a quick snack and book in hand, head for the abandoned house.

Sneaking through a hidden divide in the wall of overgrown shrubbery, I would enter the world of Tolkien, which to us purists, probably should have remained accessible the old fashioned way, even though the movies were excellent and fairly accurate. Incidentally, watching the movie, versus reading the books is like riding a train to California and telling the guy who walked it, you made the trip. You made the trip alright, but you were simply an observer, not a participant. I was there with Gandalf in the Mines of Moria; I know.

I had a favorite place where I would hunker down against a tree, comfortable in the deep inviting grass. The aromatic and dense shrubs muffled almost all city sounds and I would hide myself away for hours each afternoon and…read. On the weekends, I imagine I would spend five or six hours with hobbits, elves, dwarfs and orcs. At the time I realized this was probably going to be regarded as a special niche in my life. It was.

I've never experienced this feeling of separation while watching a movie or video. Streaming audio-visuals are no match for imagination brought on by the written word. When I read great literature, I ponder the meaning of the words, which causes me to read slower and slower, as I mull over what the author is attempting to tell me. A good fat book may take me a couple of weeks to read and I may read it three or four times over the years, getting more and more out of it each time.

I do believe that one of the reasons I tend to shun man-made entertainment venues is because reading books has made these places seem cheap and superficial to me. They are no match for the places I've been, through reading books. Books have also helped me develop mentally and spiritually, learning right from wrong, from so many situations that when a real-life drama develops, I usually have encountered something like it in one of the books I've digested.

Let's look at Louis L'Amour's many books as an example of right and wrong social behavior. Mr. L'Amour wrote Western's for the most part and I'll be the first to admit they are light-weight reading, but chock full of lessons for everyday life. Most of his books follow the same theme of a loner who has seen the trail from both sides of the law, but at this point in life are leaning towards doing the right thing. The hero always encounters a bad bunch of side-winding bad guys and eventually sets the record straight. The situations which develop in his books, parallel modern living when it comes to human relations and problem solving, but his character's solution to the problems usually ends up with the acrid smell of gunpowder hanging in the air, not because the good guy wanted it that way, but because he was forced to defend himself. Regardless, the reader learns both solutions – right and wrong.

Throughout his many excellent short stories, all suitable for the young entry-level reader incidentally, as well as the seasoned reader looking to expand their boundaries, are life-directing thoughts and expressions that carry over to us personally. I remember a line from one his books which I read over twenty years ago and it went something like this: "When you think killing a person will remove all your problems, just wait a year and they won't even be in the picture". His character had an evil overbearing boss who daily abused the hard-working hero, who was himself a rough and dangerous man, but was trying to do right and abide by the law. The cowboy hero thought about calling the bad boss out into a gunfight and just getting it all over with, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized that all he had to do was wait and the boss would probably be gone from the picture by natural events. This was a great lesson to me when I read it and I've quoted this line many times since.

My current reading goal is to finish the top one hundred Science fiction novels. It's an unexplored and possibly hazardous area with many mishaps and adventures ahead and thus I've decided to change my middle name to Danger, at least for the time being.

Now, does anyone know where I can find a good tree with thick fluffy buffalo grass under it?


Natalie said...

I share your love of books! There are not enough hours in the day to read everything I'd like. Having a list is a great idea, but I know I'd keep adding to it, and never get to them all.

Every time I see the old episode of The Twilight Zone where the old, grumpy bespectacled man just wants to be left alone with his books, I think that's me in 30 years! I'll try not to be that grumpy :) And, I won't step on my glasses!

Chris said...

Really interesting thoughts on L'Amour. I've been finding a similar thread over on my blog ( L'Amour seems to have lots of characters who have experienced the criminal way of life but find themselves in a situation that urges them to mend their ways.

Nice post. Check out my blog if you have a chance. Chris

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