Monday, May 26, 2008

Old Kinglear and the Lord of the Rings

Old Kinglear has been in my mind a lot recently.
Partly this is because there have been ads for the Glasgow Memory Clinic on the local radio, and I underwent a drugs trial there to try to help with Alzheimer's, which is what OKL died of.
More importantly, a first edition of The Lord of the Rings recently sold for quite a lot of money, and I have a set.
I will never sell it, though, as it was given me by my father when I was about 7. Quite young you might think to be given such a book, but I was a voracious reader and regularly got through 2 or 3 a day of the Famous Five and the like, and OKL decided I needed some meat.
But why did he give me that particular trilogy?
I suppose in a sense it's now the most famous book of all time after the Bible ( I'm sure you all have other candidates) and The Godfather, or Peyton Place. But at it's first publication, Tolkien was almost unknown.
My father heard of the book whilst in Switzerland. It hadn't been translated at the time, but OKL was always one for gathering information - I think now such people are called mavens.
He walked into a bookshop in Berne, and happened to meet up with the then First Secretary in the UK Embassy there.
OKL had known him years before when he was Third Secretary. The budding Ambassador had then been moved to Paris as Second Secretary, and was now back in Berne as First Secretary. They chatted for a while, and then my father asked him what he was looking for.
" Well, when I was at University I was taught by a chap called Tolkien, and I'd heard on the grapevine he's got a book out."
As an aside, I'm not sure how being taught by Tolkien would have prepared anyone for the Diplomatic, but never mind.
Father was instantly interested and asked where he could get a copy.
" Oh, you can have mine. I'm actually back here returning it. It's a children's fairy story really. But it's for children."
Father was delighted and paid the enormous sum of, I think, £1.50 for the trilogy.
He never read it of course, but regularly asked me as I struggled through it how I liked it, and was permanently delighted to hear it was great.
" Ha," he would say with glee ," I know more than that idiot."