I’ve been slowly re-reading The Lord of the Rings; I’m into the Return of the King now. It’s as spellbinding as it was when I first read it forty years ago. It’s worth returning to every few years.

A few things of which I’m reminded, as I read:

1) Tolkien had a story to tell, and built a world in which to tell it, with a deep history.

2) He pays careful attention to the environment and atmosphere; to dell and dale and wood and river and mountain; he has a clear vision of his world and put a lot of thought into the roads and paths his characters would traverse.

3) Just-in-time rescue by eagle happens several times and might seem a bit of a cop-out, but I think Tolkien earns his eagles, and the reader feels deep relief when the eagles show up — such is the sense of real danger that Tolkien builds.

4) The many songs. Many readers find them tedious and silly, but if you pay some attention to them, and maybe sing them to yourself (don’t let anyone catch you), you get a subtle boost in your enjoyment.

5) The characters were in a terrible crisis, and faced the end of the world.

6) They were adults. Even the hobbits.

7) Tolkien loved the natural world and mourned its ongoing destruction.

8) By today’s standards the story is . . . complicated. There’s much that I pass over in this cursory list, which I am hastily typing out while holding my sleeping son.

9) It’s a really fun story. You have to read it, for the first time, just when you are a certain age. For me it was age ten, around 1978. My father had paperback copies of the Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy and I found them and stormed right through them. I’m still just as delighted at age fifty.

10) If you are raising kids, do read to them, as much as you can. If you can arrange for them to stumble on Tolkien around age nine or eleven or so, it would be a great gift from you, to them.

11) On, Shadowfax!