Dear reader, this is a series of tales on how I fell in love with the world of Middle Earth in honor of Tolkien Week (est. 1978). If you’re curious about a chance encounter with a horrific book cover (vomited from bowls of late ’80s art) and subsequent book thieving that ensued—venture over to Part 1. Thanks for reading and please share your own tales on how you discovered Middle Earth.
It had been four years since I had first ogled the curious covers of the books my dad read in his free time. I still snuck them off the shelf occasionally, but wasn’t “old enough” to read the series for my own. As time passed, I watched my first brother grow stronger and defy the lifespan doctors predicted at his birth. Now, another brother was on the way and I was allowed to begin babysitting for short errands (usually consisting of playing on the Gameboy Color while my brother was put down for a nap). With this new responsibility, my dad started to consider my maturity and soon came the chance that I had been waiting for—I was allowed to borrow “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
Now here, dear reader, I know you might scratch your head and wonder “Why not ‘The Hobbit?’ It was intended as a children’s book after all!” To which I would answer: Peter Jackson. Dad had heard that the first film in “The Lord of the Rings” would be the following year, and, like any devout bibliophile, hoped his child would read the book before seeing the movie. I didn’t care; I could always read “The Hobbit” later. In my mind, “Fellowship” was my rite-of-passage to the world of grownup books—long, detailed and full of action and cool fight scenes that the back of each book (now memorized) only hinted at.
No more illustrations, no more big printed words, no more easy reads. I had been spoiled on “Junie B. Jones,” “Captain Underpants,” “Magic Tree House,” and “Bunnicula” long enough! Now was the time to rely solely on my imagination!
So it began…
I made sure to read the introduction summarizing “The Hobbit” and fell in love with the description of Gandalf—blue hat, silver scarf, bushy eyebrows and all.
Then all too soon, I found myself drowned in an ocean of prose. No illustrations except the cover to help me understand what was going on; no big printed words but rather small, hard and irritating ones. And So. Many. Pages. I couldn’t focus. I tried to grasp what I was reading—tried to imagine myself smart like my parents. It was still too difficult, so, like any impatient eight-year-old, I gave up.
It wasn’t just a problem with that particular book. I had issues focusing on assigned reading in school. Originally, I attributed this to a boring plot or quiet classroom (books are more fun to read in an accent with people, anyway). Yet, as I set aside the thick paperback which I had just given up on, it dawned on me that maybe the struggle with reading was my own. That’s stupid, I thought. I’m in a family which loves books—who read me all sorts of books. What’s wrong with me? Frustrated, I gave the book back to my dad and vented. He nodded empathetically and then suggested that I should start listening or reading along with audiobooks.
That December, I was given my first Walkman cassette-player and my first book-on-tape, an unabridged copy of “The Fellowship of the Ring” as read by British stage actor Rob Inglis. Being eight, I had no idea who the guy was, all I knew was he was perfect. Sometimes I read along, sometimes I just listened—but that charming Brit brought the magic alive in my head.
When the first of the film adaptations hit the theater the following year, I was ready. True, it was quite different from the book, but seeing Middle Earth brought to life fueled the growing fandom inside me. If I hadn’t saved up allowance and bought it already, I would ask for the video-game adaptations for Christmas and my birthday. My first dial-up email address was “Arwen”—my absolute favorite character at the time, and whom I dressed as for Halloween. My fish was called Pippin and my hamster, Gandalf; I would have named the family dog Arwen too had not my mom put her foot down (it was the family’s dog, not mine, so the family had to agree). I tried to do the same with the cat that followed—no avail.My family made it an annual tradition to collect and view the extended edition of each film the day they were released. Marathons began, behind-the-scenes documentaries were devoured. And by the time the trilogy had wrapped up, I had discovered fan-fiction (written offline, and unimaginatively called “The 4th Age”). By this time, I was in Middle School, with a Mary-Sue heroine named Rose and a obnoxious stream-of-consciousness narrative that was more akin to “Twilight” than Tolkien. I was a full-throttle fangirl and bookworm—who in the process, had discovered a love for RPG’s, MMO’s, and anime to boot.
Then came the transitions moving towards adulthood. I had to focus on getting good grades in order to get into a good college—and I thought had to figure out what I wanted to do in life. Throw in the continuing responsibilities of being the oldest, a health-condition or two, and you can feel like you’re growing up a little too fast. Fandoms become interests and interests fade into passing fancies as the weight of “priorities” increase. In the past, I dreaded and delighted at the thought of becoming an adult. A mix of anticipation in the hopes of what I would be allowed to do (i.e., drive, read/watch grownup things) and fear of what I know I would have to do (i.e., find a job, pay bills, more chores). But, to my relief, I didn’t have to relinquish all the things I did for fun. I cut back on the MMOs and anime I followed, but still gamed. And of course, I never got tired of Middle Earth. I made a point to set aside time for a marathon party once or twice a year (sometimes on obscure dates from the book, like Oct. 24), and prided myself in the knowledge that I was the one who introduced, at the very least, the films for the first time to my family and friends. As a fan, I never thought there would be a greater pride or joy for sharing a passion, and I love looking back and seeing how everything wove together. (And I still envy my brother his birthday: Sep. 22!) However, dear reader, there is one unfinished tale remaining—concerning one hobbit, a yarn beard, and a far green country…