“I am dreading the publication for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, concerning the publication of The Lord of the Rings.
I wrote this quote down my freshman year of high school, on my mom’s pastel floral notepad, while reading a biography of Tolkien for a school report. It has always stuck with me, always been around to remind me that others are taking the risk. Tolkien was looking at publishing this novel he had been working on for a decade. Anyone who has read the book (all three volumes) knows it is not merely a novel; it is, in fact, a world – with mythology, languages, folk songs, and geography. No wonder Tolkien was nervous! This world was his life’s work. I’m sure at certain points he felt like he spent more time in MiddleEarth than he did in England. At the end of it, he gave it up to be lambasted by critics. Every harsh review was another hole in his heart.
And yet, what if he hadn’t? What if he had, very neatly, stowed his thousand-page opus in a trunk in his attic? It would have been safe from the slings and arrows of critical opinion. But it would have affected no one. Been read by no one. Loved by no one. What, dear friends, is the point of that? Sure, he could have felt impressed with a job well done. But its impact would have been simply a fraction of what it could have been. What it is today.