“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”
J. R. R. Tolkien
By: William G. Muir
Some of our readers might recognize this as the opening line of The Hobbit. What you may not realize is that Tolkien got the idea for the book while he was grading student exams. He wrote that line down on a blank piece of paper. And as I heard it put on a NPR program I was listening, he then decided he needed to figure out what a Hobbit was.
I got to thinking about this when a friend of my told me she had an idea for a new story. At the time all she had was a character and a rough notion of what the first chapter was.. When she shared this with me I thought back to the day I was driving down the highway and the talk show host was discussing the upcoming The Lord Of The Ring movies.
So we now know how Tolkien came by the line that would lead to the first in series of much beloved fantasy novels. But I wonder how other works were inspired. What lead Bram Stoker to write Dracula, what the source of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. What about Leo Tolstoy, what got into his head, what was it that drove him to write his epic War And Peace? All these great works started off as a single idea, but how did that idea come about.
What was special about these individuals, what allowed them to see the story when so many others couldn’t? Why were these people blessed with the talent that allowed them to not only see that spark, but to nuture it until it was an all consuming fire.
Whatever it is, a talent, a gift, or even a curse, I know I have it. Ideas pop into my mind; and just like virtual particles most pop out of existence as soon as they popped into it. But every now and then one will stick. It just hangs around, no matter how many other thoughts might run through my mind at any given moment. No matter how many important things I need to remember, but I just end up forgetting. These ideas won’t go away. They pound their fist against the door of my memories, making sure I know that it is there. Making sure that I don’t forget its name.
Other times I might be watching a television show or a movie when inspiration strikes me. It might be as simple as the utterance of line that start my mind a working. Some times the gears get rolling because I like what it is I am watching, but I feel like it just would have been better if they had done B or C instead of A. Still other times I just can’t help thinking that I can do much better than the sticking pile of excrement that I had just sat through.
I have heard that others claim that found inspiration in their dreams. To be honest, I rarely remember my dreams, I’m not going to say I don’t have them, obviously I do have them if I remember the odd one every now and then. Plus when I was kid I remember being able to recall my dreams all the time. I just guess as I have gotten older my dreams are of so little interest that they fail to hold my attention. Even if I did remember my dreams none of them have ever been the inspiration for a story. Sure I have had the occasional dream that I remember and that at first I think I should write down. But none of them have ever materialized into anything beyond a curiosity.
If I had to say were inspiration comes from, at least for me, it comes from the world around me. The first day of art class in high school, the teacher told us to pay attention to the world around us. And that is exactly what it is I have done. I just don’t look out at the world, I absorb it. Most people look straight ahead and only see what is right in front of them. They go around, living as if they have blinders on. Not me, I am a like the wild Mustang. My eyes rove the countryside. You might just see the road ahead of you, but I see the man carrying the pizza box to the trash.
I can see were the sidewalk ends and the chasm begins. I’m not afraid to jump off that cliff and let my wing take me wherever it is my imagination can lead me. While other live out their mundane life, I am soaring with Pegasuses on my way to dine with the Dragon Princess in her ivory castle on the hilltop just beyond the next horizon.