When I first read these words I was ten years old – and little did I know that they would catapult me into a primordial world of myth and adventure, a universe of magical rings, corrupt sorcerers and epic battles over the future of civilisation.
In case you’re unfamiliar with them, these are the opening lines of JRR Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”, the first book in his great trilogy about the travails of Frodo Baggins, a hobbit who comes into possession of the ring of power – a talisman so potent it corrupts everyone who touches it.
Under the leadership of the wizard Gandalf, and the mysterious ranger Aragorn, Frodo and his companions set out to destroy the ring, and along the way are forced to escape the clutches of ghostly ring-wraiths, armies of marauding Orcs and the master they serve, the dark lord Sauron.
I read this book at least once a year until I was 15 – and I’d say I’ve returned to “The Fellowship of the Ring” on average every two to three years since. Each time I’ve discovered a new angle, character or scene that gripped my imagination.
It’s by no means a perfect book. Tolkien was rather formulaic as a writer, and you could argue that his use of language could do with a splash more colour. Yet those are minor quibbles: the world he has created is the work of a huge imagination: it veers from comical to menacing, homely to majestic, and is always utterly convincing.
But don’t take my word for it. Listen instead to the 10-year-old who first turned these pages sometime in summer 1980. He still thinks about this great book from time to time, and he still thinks it’s fab.