How could I write a piece about inspirations and not include one about the great Doyen John Ronald Reuel Tolkien? If there is any writer who can claim a place amongst my inspirations then Tolkien stands foremost amongst all others. But then what self-respecting Fantasy author would not claim Tolkien did not influence them in the slightest? He probably created the whole genre of Epic Fantasy.
For the longest time, I was under the mistaken impression he had been born on 3 April 1892, which meant we shared our birthday and I took it as a sign that my future as a fantasy author was destiny (I was young). His real birthday was 3 January 1892, which means that if he had lived to see the travesty of The Hobbit being split into two movies, he would have been 119. The other fact which provided me with the greatest motivation was that he had been born in Bloemfontein, South Africa which is only a four hour drive from where I was born and live. Granted, he moved back to England with his family when he was still a young boy. But the fact he came from South Africa seemed to show to me that it was possible for someone to come from South Africa and be published in the UK and US markets.
My grandfather had urged me to read The Hobbit since I was very young but I had turned the book away and left the book with him while I read other childish novels like Willard Price’s Adventures series. I forgot about the novel and only read it after my grandmother gave it to me after my grandfather’s passing when I was 10 because he wanted me to have it. I still didn’t read it and put to one side until the day when I came home from the best English test I have EVER written.
The test had been a comprehension test and the teacher used part of the Hobbit. I didn’t want the story to end. I asked the teacher where the piece had come from and rushed home to pull the book out. I couldn’t stop reading it and when I had finished it, I knew I wanted to write stories exactly like it. My first story I wrote after reading it had the first line “In a hole in the ground…” it was incredibly derivative and I never finished it. There was no possible way I would be able to do justice to the work at that young age.
I followed The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings and read it once a year every year for twelve years until the movies came out. Sadly, while I enjoyed the movie I think it took away from pure enjoyment of the novel and I haven’t read it again since.
But the Hobbit and J R R Tolkien inspired me to write and it is a debt I will never forget.
I’ve been thinking about doing a few short posts regarding the writers who have inspired me and motivated me the most in my writing career. There are several and while many of you might have believed the distinguished J.R.R. Tolkien would be the first writer on my list I couldn’t help but go for another writer who has had a profound effect on modern pop culture – Stephen King.
I came to Stephen King late or at least later than most of my friends who’d been reading him since the sixth grade. I’d always had the latest Dragonlance or Tom Clancy novel to read instead of picking up a Stephen King chiller. Ok, I’ll admit it, I was scared. I’d made several attempts to read his novel IT and could never guts out the prologue (or was it the first chapter) – I’ve got a thing for clowns. I always put it down and moved on to something less challenging. My motivation came while I was at varsity (college) and was finding myself getting scared at my future if I didn’t manage to pass my finals and needed something to distract me. I grabbed the same copy of IT which had been sitting in my room with Pennywise staring at me through the grate for years and opened it to page one. I couldn’t put the book down and found that the characters more than the story grabbed me and I forgot all about my troubles as Pennywise terrorised Derry.
I discovered something in IT which I had not been able to find in any of the other writing I had read to date; characters I could identify with. They weren’t Navy SEALS or Knights, they were only children and they were forced to face up to a terror which would have driven adults out of their mind.
“Remember the simplest thing of all – how it is to be children, secure in belief and this afraid of the dark.”
-Stephen King, IT-
After I finished IT, I grabbed the next SK novel I could get my hands on, From a Buick 8, another ripper although nowhere close to IT. For the longest time though I insisted that I would not be reading The Dark Tower series, SK had written it but it was a horror-western. I was not a fan of the Western genre (and still aren’t). But the inevitable day arrived when I finally ran out of other SK books and was forced to read The Gunslinger. I found it intriguing but didn’t think it was anywhere as close to the rest of his works. I thought my belief that the Dark Tower wasn’t as good as the rest of his novels was the truth. But fate has a funny way of pushing one in the right direction. I didn’t only buy The Gunslinger but bought the first three novels in a nice value pack (three for the price of one) and thought well I’ve come this far I may as well finish the books I’ve bought. The next two (The Drawing of the Three and The Wastelands) grabbed me and held me and as soon as I finished them I went out the same day and bought Wizard and Glass.
I was lucky in my timing in arriving at The Dark Tower series because SK had decided the time had come to finish the series off properly and I didn’t have to wait years for the anticipated end. I only had a few months to wait. It was the best series I have ever read.
There are many people who complain about how the story was finished off and it’s their right. They did no doubt wait years and years for King to decide to finish the series while I had only been waiting for months. The end of the series was the BEST ending I have ever read. The Dark Tower was all about Roland’s quest to reach the Tower and in the end, Kind demonstrated that we have become as obsessed with the Tower and what was inside as Roland. We were warned to turn back but we never did.
“Monsters are real, ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”
– Stephen King –