I was maybe thirteen and going through my dad’s personal library. (It’s nice being raised by a geek.) I spotted the green out of the corner of my eye. It was the watercolor cover art by Tolkien of the Shire. I loved the green hill and beautiful round doors and windows. I wanted to live there. But protocol was protocol and I approached my dad with the book in hand ask him if I could read it. He took the book from me, looked it over, and said no. I was a bit crestfallen until he looked around a moment, plucked up another book, and handed it to me. “You have to read this one first.”
The cover was of a small creature ridding atop a wine barrel floating down a river. While I was skeptical that it would contain that lovely place I’d seen on the other book’s cover, I began reading The Hobbit, and then The Fellowship of the Ring, quickly followed by The Two Towers (which, admittedly, I had to put down for two months because at one point or another I just couldn’t). Then finally after being unable to locate Dad’s original copy of The Return of the King, I bought my own copy.
We spoke about the series after I had finished it. We discussed our favorite moments and characters as every geek does after a good series.
“And when the eagles came, I had tears rolling down my face. Did you?”
I never did tell my dad I didn’t cry during that scene. Maybe because I had already been too emotionally spent by that scene in Return of the King. Maybe because I read it at 3 am and I had to be up for class at 7.
By then the Lord of the Rings movies had begun appearing in the theaters. I enjoyed all the Lord of the Rings movies. I clocked a lot of hours with the Fellowship extended edition. For research. My senior of high school, our theater department held a production of The Hobbit. While I tried out for a few different acting parts such as the Elf Queen (all the elves were made female in this production as we had a higher girl to guy ratio), I was not fabulous enough to play Thranduil. I didn’t yet have enough confidence in myself to act before that many people. Instead I was given another job: Prop Master. I worked hard acquiring materials, producing props, and helping the Stage Manager. I lead the troop of middle schoolers playing our goblins about the theater, took the plates after the song and dance about what Bilbo Baggins hates, and wheeled our glow in the dark Gollum onto stage. When the party would exit the stage to continue their trek, they walked from the brilliant light and became sightless in the dark. I would take the hand of their leader, who of course jerked every time, and led the long string of hand locked dwarves through the darkness behind the curtain to the other side of the stage where they would return for their next scene. I even spent one extremely long night awake with the indices attempting to translate “god save our show” into Elvish to then add to one of the swords in the show. If dad had not been with me then I don’t think I could have figured it out on my own.
But of my most treasured moments involving this production, the one I rank highest was the moment I was completely alone in darkness. Bilbo enters the stage and awakens Smaug. It wasn’t exactly acting as I spoke none of the lines, but for those moments, I was a dragon. I took my position from behind the great and terrible face of Smaug, tall as our stage was high, and ran the mechanics–the lights for his eyes, the smoke machine for his breath. Smaug was fire and death with me inside.
My involvement in the play increased my fondness for the movies. The Return of the King is probably the only movie I have ever seen alone with my sister. I quietly explained the details that did not make sense to her, and when she told me she had to hit the restroom as soon as the movie was done, it was because I knew the book that I kept her from standing up during all those fades to black. After the final scene, I was nodded and we ran up the center aisle before anyone had gotten to their feet.
The summer of 2008, I was broke. Mr. B was broke. We were both on summer break from university. We did the only cheap thing there was to do: stay at home and marathon LotR. It was the first series we ever marathoned together. That summer gave way to my last year in college, including the capstone course for my field: Senior Seminar. It’s a different professor every year (usually), and a slightly different course. But that year I luckily had Dr. Caldwell.
He had instructed me through English Lit freshman year and Norse Myth the semester before my senior sem. I was nothing but eager for the course. The curriculum began with Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell which then moved into such works as From Ritual to Romance by Jessie L. Weston and The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot. But the more astounding part of that course for me was the day we listened to opera. We listened to parts of Der Ring des Nibelungen, explored the origins the Rhine Gold in the Nibelungenlied, and dispelled the myth that Vikings wore horned helmets though they were depicted as such in opera. After this work we read The Lord of the Rings. While I admit, I didn’t exactly reread it in depth as much as sped through it again to refresh my memory on the details such as the broken sword and statue lying in ruins with a crown of flowers growing upon it. They had not made as much sense to me a decade before that class. After that class it all made sense: the ending of the Third Age, the wasteland of Middle Earth, how both Aragon and Frodo both played into the Fisher King cycle. I understood Tolkien’s incorporation of the original myths completely.
Since leaving college, I’ve begun to notice things about myself that I think grew out of my love of this series. I enjoy food, books, maps, and writing. Mr. B tends to call me a hobbit due to my height. It is fourteen years after I first looked at the cover of The Fellowship of the Ring, and I still want to live in a hole in the ground with green things growing over head. I’d live in Bag End if given half the chance. Yes, I’ve seen others who’ve done it. Yes, I have looked over their websites and pictures and plans in order to devise my own. It’s been through our house hunting that I’ve discovered that what I keep looking for and not finding is a Hobbit hole. I didn’t realize I’d grow up wanting to become Bilbo Baggins, throwing awesome parties with fireworks and delicious food by a large tree before returning to my home in a hole.
Mr. B and I just watched the last installment of the Hobbit which is what sent me into this spiral – gyre – of reflection. I laughed a bit to myself imagining the dwarves to be a race of little Thors running about with only one Odin in his pointy hat to rein them in and fairing badly. I flat out lost it when Gandalf was flat out called Pointy Hat. I braced myself for the deaths I knew would come. And then, to bring my involvement in this series round full circle, Bilbo whispered, “The Eagles are coming.” I cried this time. A lot actually. I composed myself enough to leave the theater, but the tears remained close at hand, and a few times during the rest of the night they slipped out.
Now that I’ve written this all out, I feel empty without all the excess emotion. I feel sort of lost without more movies to look forward to. This has been such a seemingly subtle undercurrent to my life that I never noticed its great impact until it left. I don’t even have the luxury of a Hobbit hole to return to. Without the movies to look forward to, I feel lonely. Almost like a mountain.
Perhaps one with a dragon inside.