Thursday, 3 January 2013

Me and Gandalf: Not Quite There and Back Again


So, there I was this morning, staring at my computer screen having just typed the words Chapter Six, when it seemed that the sensible thing to do next was to log on toTwitter. I believe it's called displacement activity. It appears to happen when I'm working on a novel.

Normally I scroll down the latest tweets, admiring other people's input, wondering if I should come up with something myself, and knowing I'd be far better employed getting back to my deadline. But today I found myself catapulted straight back to one of the most exciting days of my life.

The day I heard that my father knew Gandalf.

I was probably six or seven. My father was a professor at University College Galway in Ireland - since renamed NUI Galway. He'd recently given me a copy of The Hobbit and I'd loved it. It was the first book I'd read which echoed the folktales I'd been told by my Galway granny, yet had a distinctly different flavour. And it was the beginning of my awareness of, and delight in, the similarities and contrasts between stories from different traditions, and between literary and oral storytelling. Not that I knew that at the time. I just loved the fact that my Granny's stories and the book I'd been given by my  father were what I called the same only different.

Then, around the time that I was finishing The Hobbit, I overheard my father and mother chatting. And one name, casually mentioned, leapt out of their conversation. Daddy had a meeting with Tolkien. It seemed so unlikely that I said nothing. Then I edged over to my father's chair and stood staring at him. Eventually he looked down and I heard myself asking if he'd take me to his meeting. He was baffled. But a lot of the things I said in those days baffled my parents, so he just laughed and pulled my hair.

Next day I watched him pack his bags and set off to take the train from our home in Dublin to the university in Galway. I was absolutely certain that in a few hours time he'd be hanging out with a wizard. Possibly Smaug and the dwarves as well, but they didn't interest me. I wanted to be introduced to Gandalf. Naturally he'd be there. The Tolkien guy probably never travelled without him. They might even be going to Galway on the same train as my father.

But he didn't take me with him. Instead he left saying he'd be back again on Thursday. So it never happened.

If I've thought of it at all since that day in the 1950s, I've wondered if I imagined it.

And then this morning there was this

 
Happy Birthday to JRR today! "Imagine if J.R.R Tolkien was marking your exam papers?"
Was wildly excited as a kid when heard of this from my father. Think Tolkien was also a mid-fifties UCG extern?
I love Twitter. Now I'm going back to Chapter Six of the new novel.

My mother, my father and me in the late 1950s