This is a true story.
When I first left school, I took a job in central London, which meant a short trip back and forth every day on a train. One afternoon, I boarded my usual train. I was reading a hardback copy of The Two Towers, the middle volume of The Lord of The Rings. I opened the book and started reading, not paying any attention to anyone else in the carriage.
Suddenly I felt someone tap me on the knee, and a voice said. “You’re lucky!”
I looked up. Sitting opposite me was a portly elderly man with a white beard and wearing a tweed suit – he looked kind of like a professor or something.
“Why?” I asked, puzzled, because people don’t usually speak to one another on commuter trains, and we were alone in the carriage at the time.
“Because you haven’t finished it,” he said, pointing to the book.
“Oh! Actually I’ve already read the whole thing about ten times over,” I told him.
So, we started chatting. It turned out he had framed maps of Middle Earth on the walls in his living room, and had read a huge number of fantasy books of which I had never heard. He particularly recommended a book called The Worm Ouroboros by E R Eddison. He also asked me if I had heard the dramatised radio version of The Hobbit. I hadn’t. He told me that if I brought some blank tapes with me tomorrow, he would copy the show (which he had taped from the radio) for me!!
Well, the following day, I met him on the platform and handed over the tapes. We chatted some more, and he recommended a few more books – The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany, The Well At The World’s End by William Morris and Dune by Frank Herbert.
The following day, he gave me back my tapes with The Hobbit radio dramatization on them. It was a great program, of six 30-minute broadcasts, and I really enjoyed listening to it that evening when I got home.
The next day I went to a bookshop and bought The Worm Ouroboros and Dune.
I enjoyed them both, reading The Worm Ouroboros over the weekend even though it was very long.
I expected to see the man again on Monday evening at the station, but he wasn’t there.
In the back of The Worm Ouroboros was a list of “similar” fantasy novels and a form with which you could order by mail whichever of these books you liked the sound of.
I ordered all 23 of them. A few weeks later a big parcel of books arrived and I started reading. Many of these books became absolute favourites of mine and still are – and you can see their titles in my “favourite books” list on this site.
I had never thought to ask the man on the train his name. I never saw him again. Ever.
This is a true story.