I was in the Village a few weeks ago, walking around with my friend Andrea, when she said, “I lost my rock.”
My response was what you are now expecting because it’s what you would say to a friend who made that announcement, a friend whose possession of a rock was heretofore unknown to you.
“A rock? Why do you have a rock?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute but first I have to tell you what happened.”
“Well, sure,” I said. “I mean, it’s a rock? A plain rock we could pick up somewhere, from the ground?” But for Andrea, the important story was what happened when she lost her rock and she wasn’t going to explicate until she told me the story.
“I keep the rock in the pocket of my coat or whatever I’m wearing when I go outside, but when I pulled my coat out, the rock wasn’t in my pocket. This bothered me. I really like that rock. So I looked through the pockets of all my outside garments but no rock. Then, I began tracking back where I’d been the last time I remember having the rock. I called the place I work but no one had found the rock.
“I happened to be walking near the place I get my hair cut so I went in and talked to a guy who works there but he hadn’t found the rock. Suddenly, out of the back room came the woman who owns the shop. She’d heard what I’d been asking about. ‘I found the rock and held onto it because it was so unusual and beautiful, and here it is!'”
She handed Andrea the rock. Which Andrea now took out of her pocket and showed it to me. “I love it,” she said, “because it fits exactly in my hand.”
It was not any old ordinary rock you could find anywhere. It was a small white column about as long as your palm, and seemed to be smooth marble. It fit into Andrea’s hand perfectly.
“Oh,” I said, “it isn’t simply a rock. It’s a magic rock. It found you again.”
Perhaps I wouldn’t have immediately grasped that the rock was a talisman which refused to be lost if I hadn’t been re-reading for the hundredth time my therapy books, the trilogy that once upon a time rescued me from an annual cyclical springtime depression.
Luckily, I had a powerful drug prescribed by an MD. Each spring, my inventive psychiatrist would tell me, “Darling, go back and read The Books.”
The Books were Lord of the Rings.
I no longer settle into them as an antidote to depression. But now and then something in me whispers, “Go back and read The Books.” And I take The Fellowship of the Ring down from my highest shelf (next to War and Peace), and begin, again.
Over the years, I’ve noticed and accepted The Books’ imperfections. Tolkien’s dialogue does not often soar, nor does his prose reach literary heights. More often than not I skim over his poems and songs. And, of course, sigh at the frozen characterizations and minimus role of women throughout. Which is why my favorite moment comes on the battlefield when Éowyn tells the horrifying near-omnipotent Lord of the Nazgûl, “But no living man am I!,” before she destroys him.
And damn! I thrill to it every single time.
One moment may not be able to make a book great, but neither can an accumulation of small flaws seep the strength from Lord of the Rings.
The Books will always have their power because when I open the pages, I am drawn out of my world and into the world Tolkien made for me. No matter how many times I read them, I find I am so utterly embraced by that world, not a moment of my own world leaks in from the edges. And still, after half a century, I am unable to stop reading, close the book and go to sleep.
Under my current circumstances, is it any wonder I think of Andrea’s rock as magic?