I was conceived on a dreary November day in 1931. My conception was not a planned thing, I was quite an accident; I wasn't sought after, or even necessarily wanted: I just sort of happened. These things do happen from time to time, you know, these unplanned things, especially when someone refuses to take the necessary precautions, or perhaps doesn't know any better.
On this otherwise unremarkable day, the clouds glowed silvery grey and white, the color of moonlight. It was mid-afternoon, the air cold but not the biting cold of winter, just the late autumn cold which threatens of the biting cold of winter. Despite the cold and damp and grey, no rain fell. Rain would have been satisfying, a sort of justification for the gloom. But there was no justification for the gloomy weather: not a single drop of rain fell through the air to plop unceremoniously on the on limestone towers and fortifications of Oxford University. No pleasant tic-tic-tac-tac of splattering precipitation offered reprieve for one man's monotonous task. Had there been a real and proper distraction from such tedium, I may have never been.
My father was the one man with the inglorious task of grading examination answer books. He sat there in the cool dark, hunched over his desk, pallid and wearied by the repetitive rote answers of students too desperate to be right to allow creativity or free-thought. A rumpled pale blue jacket covered an over starched white button down shirt. His tie was loosened at the throat, top collar button undone as he sought any meager comfort he could find. Lifting bleary eyes to the tall window beside him, he looked out at the low slung sky, the white-gray Headington stone walls. His mind wandered off to a small dirt trail winding through budding green hills, around a particularly familiar curve to find a round green door set into the hill. He turned the page of the examination answer book recalling nothing of what the student had written.
A blank page in the answer book brought unexpected joy. In the answer book on my desk there exists a blank page. In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.
And there I was. Scratched out in a small, curling calligraphy on the back page of a student's examination answer book. A humble beginning, I must confess. No fits of passion and spewing forth of creative brilliance; just ten little words written in damp black ink on a tan sheet of paper. But that's all it takes in the beginning.
The beginning, the conceiving, is always the easy part.
"What's a Hobbit?" she stood holding me in her hand. I'd been torn out of the examinations book, folded twice and tucked into a snug jacket pocket.
The excitement of budding life had not waned. A story is, above all things, patient. To mature is not an instantaneous thing, nor a measured thing. Like any life, a story grows and stagnates and rushes forward pell-mell toward completion only to slow and stop, backtrack and start again.
"I don't know," my father said. He wore another white button down shirt and a black tie. He looked at me in the hands of this woman, puzzled by the words or perhaps puzzled that she was the one who spoke them.
"But Hobbits live in holes in the ground? How do you know where they live if you don't know what they are?" Her gaze poured over my skin and she flipped me over to review my back side, but found nothing there, least of all an explanation for a Hobbit.
"It's just a thought I had while I was grading papers. That's all. Probably nothing, a story for the boys, you know." He reached for me and she handed me over without question.
"I was going to send this to the cleaners today, so you'll need to wear another." She took the jacket and left.
Safe in my father's hand I waited, pensive.
"Not a dirty, nasty hole. A sandy hole, tucked in and cozy, smelling of good things to eat."
And I grew.
Stories don't grow like people grow. People grow day by day in a linear fashion: forward, ever forward, from beginning to end. Stories don't grow in such a way. We grow, sometimes, from the middle, or from the end. We might begin at the end, or grow from the beginning and the end, only to end the growing somewhere in the middle.
I'd say it's hard, but I don't really know any different. I began at the beginning and ended at the end, but everything in between was a tumbled up jumble of pieces and parts. I was cobbled together on napkins and papers and in the margins.
My father grew me by talking about me to friends, to his children, to his wife. I became words on paper and words in the air. As I grew, people who met me began to remember me. I was no longer ten words hastily jotted down on a dreary November day. Now I had form, curve, depth. My father rounded out my figure and filled in intricacies and nuance. Not a flat story, not me.
My favorite memories are not when I was words on paper or flying through the air, but when I was drawn into pictures. My humble beginnings grew to include elves and dwarves and dragons. As my father poured more love and care into my growth, I changed into a glorious tale. As I grew from conception to maturity, my aspects also grew: hesitant characters became heroes, friendships were forged and tested. I knew I was a good story. People who only knew a few of my parts remembered me, asked after me. With pride my father shared me and I knew I would soon be ready.
I am ready.
I have reached transcendence. I am no longer a single thing in the trembling hands of my father. I am duplicated and replicated and repeated a thousand times and ten thousand times. I am bound and stacked, pressed tightly into boxes and as the boxes open I am unleashed, free. The final step in the life of a story is the step toward humanity. From the first moment of conception I have worked steadily on toward this enviable moment where I become alive. The tides of humanity will sweep me up and engulf my entire essence, devouring all that I am, and I will remain in them forever.
I am a story and I am a living thing.