My wife and I have subscriptions to a number of magazines thanks to members of our families. Accordingly, I read a number of magazines, including Texas Monthly. As I did so this morning, I noticed in Dan Oko's "The Secret Shore" the comment that "J.R.R. Tolkien's towering Ents, the ancient, gnarled beings in The Lord of the Rings, have nothing on the Big Tree at Goose Island State Park." And I was somewhat surprised to see it.
I am a long-time reader and fan of Tolkien's work; I have commented on him in this blog before, and I have even used his works in my scholarship once or twice. I wholeheartedly endorse study and use of his works, not just the commentary on Beowulf that is still standard reading for students of Old English, but the more widely known Middle-earth corpus. Seeing him invoked in a major, mainstream magazine, then, was greatly pleasing.
It was also somewhat of a shock. Neither erudite scholarship nor fantastic fiction often spring to mind in discussions of Texas, especially of the rural Texas that the parks Oko describes very much are. (Both perhaps should, given the overwhelming incidence of high-quality colleges and universities in Texas and the fact that Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, was Texan.) Tolkien being used as a standard of comparison for discussion of a state park in Texas, then, does not suggest itself as the most natural tactic to take.
Then again, writers tend to be readers, and readers tend to be nerds; it should not be a shock that a piece of nerd culture would pop up in a work of writing, or that an editor (who also was likely a nerd) would allow it into print. Also, Texas Monthly is produced in Austin, and Austin is hardly representative of the state as a whole (despite being the seat of the state legislature). The presence of UT and the status of much of the city (especially in the minds of many New Yorkers) as a sort of colony of Williamsburg would make it more likely that the environment in which the magazine is produced would conduce to such literary references. Too, following Peter Jackson's work, Lord of the Rings is part of the American mainstream--and therefore part of the Texan mainstream. It should not, therefore, be too much of a shock to see it deployed.
Still, the part of me that remembers being ridiculed for having not only a book in my hand, but a book written by Tolkien, cannot help but start and stare at seeing something so long loved in print as I did this morning. I ought not to be surprised anymore; I ought not to still feel the urge to prove acceptable my taste for and legitimate my work in fantasy literature. Yet I am and I do, and as long as it is so, I will be able to feel a sudden and unexpected delight at seeing something like what Oko writes.