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Legacy that Counts

I’ve never been one for legacy after my own life ends. I have my son, my daughter, my grandson… that was always enough. I know of people who write so that their life somehow continues after they are gone, so that they aren’t forgotten. I expect my children to remember me, and then my grandchildren, and then I suspect I will be little more than a name on a family tree to some interested descendent.

That’s the way it goes for most of us. It’s not a bad thing.

But when you write a book and get it out there, something interesting happens – or at least it did for me. I realized that I had put something out there that could reflect a deep part of me after even my children and grandchildren are gone.

Christopher Tolkien is gone now, passed away as an old man, and those left who remember his father are very few, if any. And yet John (JRR) Tolkien’s work is still very much alive, and very much reflective of who he was as a man. I don’t mean the movies or the paintings or the other reflections of his work, but the work itself. His writings show a man who lived in an age of normalized misogyny, though he himself was not extreme in this, by his day’s reconning. He loved his children very much, and demonstrated that to them. He was a man who felt a great loyalty to, and subservience to his god and his king, and that, too, is very much reflected in his writing. He loved trees, growing things, and a wholesome life, spiced with a little adventure and good friends. That is there too.

He saw terror, felt terror, and stood against evil people when there seemed little hope. He lost most of his friends to death on the battlefield, and bore the weight of that for his whole remaining life. He bore the weight, and sadness, by propping himself up with creativity and joy. With hope, faith, and comradeship. With love.

His writing shows all of this and I can’t help but think, as I read it, how I would have liked to have known John Tolkien himself, and spent some time with him. Maybe it’s true that one shouldn’t meet one’s heroes, but for that conversation I would risk it. I walk the same stones he did, go through some of the same doors, maybe even sit in a chair he once used. As it is though, I have only the window of his work to look through, and to catch a glimpse, or a faint word of who he was.

And maybe my writing will do that too, to someone beyond my own acquaintance, beyond my grandchildren, beyond that curious family genealogist. Maybe someone, someday, will pick up an adventure I’ve written, spend some time in a world I’ve created, and catch a glimpse of me.

I would never claim the skill, status, or creativity of Tolkien – he is a hundred floors above me, in the Tower of Story – but I am a storyteller too, and perhaps in that we share some things in common. One of them is that we have created something that will live on after we are gone: That window to ourselves, through our words and stories.

Maybe you’ll write a story too, capture someone’s imagination for a little while, or a lifetime. And if you do, you’ll have that in common with us. You’ll not just be a writer, you’ll be an author. Perhaps you’ll even have a literary legacy.

But either way, remember that John Tolkien is gone; he does not know if his books are still loved or have passed from literary fashion like so many great works before. What he did know, for certain, was that his children loved him. His grandchildren too. That was a legacy that he had the privilege to know before he went, and one he could be reasonably sure will go on after him, for many generations to come.

Love your writing, or whatever other legacy you might be trying to forge.

Strive for it.

Sacrifice for it.

Sweat for it.

But know which one is the legacy that counts.

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