I would turn 15 in 1978, in the heat of adolescence and likely intolerable. I’d also just finished reading The Lord of the Rings. I love moments of that book, especially the tight and tense narrative of between Weathertop and Rivendell. Tolkien, however, had blown it in the third book. The Return of the King has a horrible idea behind it, and if you give the story a careful read, Tolkien knew it was a horrible idea.
You don’t take a man who has lived in a foreign land, make him king and expect any good to come of it. That is not how life works. You don’t defeat evil through violence, but through forgiveness and love. This is why the confrontation at Orthanc is central to the arc of the story, why the defeat of Sauron is underwritten, with Sauron’s demise off camera. Sauron’s demise wasn’t important, Frodo’s redemption was, and Tolkien wisely tied Frodo’s redemption to his failed attempt to redeem Sauruman.
I came up with my first story ever, one that would refute those ideas, and show how only a person raised within a culture could be a good leader. Show how a fallen angel might be redeemed.
I started to write this, but made no headway. I just couldn’t get my ideas onto paper. I was not yet 15.
Until I turned the story into an epic poem. At the tender age of 14, I started an epic poem to refute the bad ideas I found in The Lord of the Rings. I told you I was intolerable. I began it on February 8, exactly 40 years ago today. I wrote and and I wrote and I wrote.
When I nearly died, but didn’t, I had no idea why I was spared death. My very damaged mind thought: “you haven’t finished that poem, this is why you are still alive, you must finish that poem.”
I was an idiot. But it gave my life purpose, and I needed that.
I finished the first draft of that poem in January of 1988, and knew that I had to make it better, complete my vision, write a second draft. Writing that poem gave me a reason to live when I had no other until I found other, better reasons to live. Writing that poem helped me slowly heal my mind, my soul. I finished the second draft in 2003, finished the third in 2006 and put it aside. By then I had a better story to write, the story that would be come The Garden at the Roof of the World.
Only my wife has read my epic poem, and likely only she ever will. She told me it was better than she expected. I suspect she was being kind.
It was a story about the redemption of a fallen angel, Laedain. It was my reaching for, yearning for salvation for myself.
That poem saved my life, and my sanity.