Met an elderly friend of my in-laws last week who, just by chance and not knowing that I was a novelist, related an anecdote about when he was an undergraduate at Oxford in the late-1950s.  He had recently read  JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings having bought the first published editions. He had a couple of chums who had also read and loved the books and so, just for a lark, they decided to write a letter to Tolkien and ask him to tea. They were amazed when he accepted the invitation. He told me that Tolkien was a very amiable and quiet man, pleased that he had enjoyed the books, but irritated with the publicity he was beginning to get as well as with the opprobrium of some who denigrated fantasy writing. He also told the little group of students (all studying English literature) that his true reason for writing the epic was because he was a philologist and that he wanted to create his own languages. But because language is born and forged through culture, he told them he first had to create a world and its peoples so that he could design the languages to go into it. Middle Earth became the means to that end. Sipping his tea, he related his bemusement with all the fuss as word of LOTR spread across America. And despite his distaste for publicity and promotion, he offered to sign my friend’s first editions. Tolkien subsequently met with them a few more times and my friend treasured his signed books. Many years later, he sold the set to a family friend who was also a Tolkien fan, for two thousand pounds. Then along came Peter Jackson and those films. By the time The Return of the King hit the silver screen the price of a set of signed first editions of LOTR had rocketed to some £35000. The recipient of my elderly friend’s signed set felt a little guilty when he learned about all this. He did send him a case of vintage cognac to help make amends though. I suppose with enough time the cognac might– like those books –appreciate as well.