Back to Middle-earth Month!
This week, though, my contribution is LotR-related. I am going to ramble about how someone who turned up her nose at the name "Tolkien" and spat (on more than one occasion), "I hate that book!" ever got into this fandom....
The year was 2001, and three important things happened in my life that year.
The first two things were not of the good variety: First, I foolishly, stupidly, idiotically decided that I was no longer content with my then-fiance, and so I left him for seven months and dated someone else. An emotionally abusive someone else. And right in the middle of that, 9/11 happened, and the only person I ever had to talk about those sorts of things wasn't there anymore because of my aforementioned foolish, stupid, and idiotic behavior.
So I fell into depression. Not just dysthymia: depression. I stopped caring about my studies and my writing. I stopped eating, so I lost twenty-five pounds. And lots of other horrible things that I do not wish to mention now because that is not the point of this post; I am merely trying to set up a context. It was autumn of 2001 and I was depressed.
Of course, you all know the outcome of the first part of the story: The emotionally-abusive "someone else" went away, and I started talking to Bobby again. I eventually married Bobby, so it worked out, and I began the slow climb out of depression.
This was mid-November of 2001. I remember reconciling with Bobby on Thanksgiving weekend: We were both at The Piece to decorate for Christmas. My dad was hanging the swags over the door, and we were standing in the mall, watching him. We were talking about some of our mutual friends with whom I'd lost touch, as they'd been his friends first. That was the moment when I held my hand out to someone else and admitted that I needed help. And he gave it.
Bobby and I have always been avid moviegoers, and so it made sense that our first tentative dates were to the movies. I'd been seeing previews for the first The Lord of the Rings movie for some time and secretly wanting to see it. I was in awe of the imagery, the landscapes, and it just looked like a damned good movie. However, I'd tried to read the book many years before--as an eleven-year-old, as part of the sixth-grade "gifted and talented" curriculum--and hadn't liked it. And I'd always made of big deal of not liking it, so I was loathe to admit that I wanted to see the movie of the book I'd always believed I'd hated.
It was Bobby who breached the subject: "That new Lord of the Rings movie looks pretty good." And, shyly, full of hope, I agreed. Well, Bobby knew by now that I could be a fool and I was certainly susceptible to being wrong on occasion, so why not? I took my chances. Maybe I'd get to see my movie after all, without having to wound my pride too much.
I think we both wanted to see it more than we wanted to admit...because we made a point of going on opening weekend. I went in without a clue as to what the movie was about. I didn't know about the One Ring or the Fellowship. I knew what hobbits were because I'd read (and hated) The Hobbit in fifth grade, but I thought that Elves were the people who made kids' toys at Christmas and Dwarves were a not-so-nice term for little people. Yet I wanted--inexplicably--to see this movie. Maybe because, in the grim reality of the past few months, I needed fantasy, I needed escape.
In the opening scenes, I made a point to take it all in. I was convinced that the movie would confuse me because I'd been confused by the book as a child, so I wanted to make sure that I missed nothing. So Galadriel's opening words; the Last Alliance...that all stands out very clearly in my mind, even now, when I spend most of my effort during that scene trying to spot Gil-Galad and the rest griping to Bobby about how Galadriel is overrated and we all know that Fëanor is the greatest of the Noldor.
But it didn't take long to become immersed in the story, and soon I forgot to expend effort to pay attention and got lost in the story, in the characters and scenery. I wanted to go to Rivendell. I wanted to speak Elvish. The nazgûl terrified me in a way that--a connoisseur of horror movies--I hadn't been frightened in a long while. To hear the music from FotR, I still shiver: "A Knife in the Dark," "The Council of Elrond," "Lothlorien," and "The Great River." I play those songs constantly to tickle that place in my memory that first grasped the sadness that is a mortal-Elven marriage, that was first in awe of the Argonath statues looming over the Anduin.
I felt, at the end of the movie, that I sat for a good five minutes with my mouth hanging open, in awe of the story, of the movie. Now, of course, I am prone to seeing the subtleties: I know the parts that Jackson left out or changed, and I see the movie in the context of the larger mythology. For example, I always squee when they arrive at the Gates of Moria and there is the Star of Fëanor. "Celebrimbor made that," I think, "and before that, there is Nargothrond and rebellion, Curufin, Fëanor...." I shiver as one might upon encountering a real artifact, at the inescapable knowledge of the depth of time and the way a mark upon stone watches the passing ages.
But then, my feelings about the movie were more visceral: I couldn't name the characters, no, and I didn't know who the hell Galadriel and Celeborn and Elrond were, but that movie was like a pinch that awakened so much of me that I'd been content to leave sleeping. I went home that night and worked on a fantasy/horror story that had been languishing for ages. (It is still unfinished to this day, abandoned for good, in lieu of other stories.) Until then, my love for the fantastic and horrifying had been a guilty pleasure--as waste of time--for one so obviously talented (or so I was told) as a "literary" writer.
And I was left hungry for more. School meant that I couldn't read the book right away, but I did shortly after graduation, before Return of the King was released. My father-in-law got me a copy of the book for my birthday. That remains one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given.
Following that, I devoured The Hobbit in two days--liking it better this time but not quite finding the same magic as LotR--and acquired my now-infamous battered and scribbled-upon Silmarillion, the one with blue-haired, leopard-wearing Fëanor that looks like his head is being eaten by an owl on the cover (see icon). The one with pencil marks and underlines marking the text. The one with a note from my husband tucked inside that I want never to lose or throw away: "I love you, sweetie!" The book that now travels everywhere with me and sits on the desk in front of me now.
Sometimes, in the midst of debating trivialities--the interpretation of LaCE; the hair color of Celegorm, Legolas, or whatever Elf du jour; the nature of the Ainur and their "obligation" to the Elves--pondering words that--some of which--I've read a hundred times now, I wonder what I would have thought if, when reading them for the first time, someone had tugged my sleeve and said, "Dawn, this book will change your life. This book will make you love writing again. You will meet new friends and learn new skills because you are reading this book."
I would have laughed. In that awe-filled movie theater, in my sixth-grade classroom with the despicable book clenched in my hands, to read my words now, I would have laughed and never dared to hope.