So here’s a confession: I suspect I might be a Middle Earth hipster.
Now hear me out! Before you go rolling your eyes and ignoring the rest of this post, let me explain a bit.
I read Lord of the Rings before it was a movie.
This is true of a lot of people. A whole lot of people! People in fandoms and online RPGs and book clubs and Led Zeppelin and Stephen Colbert and the list goes on and on and on. I know this because the internet kind of happened around the same time I was first geeking out over Frodo and Lothlorien and trying to learn Elvish and all of those other things geeky kids do. There were fan sites! Other people passionate about Lord of the Rings! Who, like me, had an Annual Reading (Christmas break, every year beginning in sixth grade).
People who remember the last line of The Two Towers (“Frodo was alive, but taken by the Enemy.”) and who probably flung the book across the room like I did and scrambled for Return of the King.
I remember the thrill of first finding a small website, LordoftheRings.net, with just a handful of images and a couple of maps… and the news that they were filming a movie. A MOVIE. Middle Earth was coming to the big screen! I was in high school then, and being the dorky kid I was, I printed out all of the teaser posters and handful of pirated images of sets and covered my notebooks in them. (I wish I could find that first image, of a single Nazgûl looking down over Bag End.)
To be clear, there were a lot of other fans out there.
But no-one I knew.
My mom had read the books years before, and it was her copy I first borrowed, but otherwise I knew no-one who’d read the books. And then, in 2001, that all changed.
The Fellowship of the Ring came out December 19th of that year, when I was a Freshman in college. I saw it no less than 8 times in theaters, and even though I had some terrible NerdRage over the changes made to the story, mostly I was enchanted.
And there were tie-in products! For the first time in my memory, I could buy Lord of the Rings merchandise! Keychains! Book marks! A replica of the One Ring! It was like a dream came true!
Suddenly it was everywhere.
Everyone had seen the movie (and saw the other two installments). A lot more people read the book. I was excited to have other people share in the magic, but at the same time… shared magic seemed to make the whole thing a little less magical for me.
Maybe it was because I went so long with nothing but my own imaginings of the characters. Maybe it was simple over-saturation (much like with Frozen these days). Maybe it was something else. But suddenly this wasn’t my thing anymore.
And I found I couldn’t read the books anymore, either.
The movies’ images got too ingrained in my mind, and I found that I was mixing up details from a book I’d read more than a dozen times. (to see the difference, this some of the only Middle Earth art I’d ever seen, and it largely colored my imagination.) It was frustrating and just not… fun. So I put the books away.
Over the last twelve years, I’ve tried a few times to re-read Tolkien, but without success. Several years ago I just plain gave up on it. I donated many of my duplicate book sets (though not the fancy anniversary editions, nor the 70s era paperbacks just like the first set I ever read, complete with yellow pages and Tolkien’s own illustrations.). It made me sad, but maybe that was part of becoming an adult. When The Hobbit‘s movies came out, I saw the first two. The third came out in December and is now on Blu-ray, and I still haven’t seen it. It bothers me a little that it doesn’t bother me.
And then something kind of amazing happened.
Last week, I was fishing through my To Read pile of books for a new something to begin, and I found that really all I wanted was to read The Hobbit. I picked it up, expecting to read a few lines and then to get restless and put it down again.
I read half of it in one sitting.
Bilbo in the book is quite different than Bilbo in the movies. This isn’t bad* at all. Instead it was refreshing. This was the story I remembered! The magic was all still there. The trouble was just with me and my reading of it.
Suddenly I care about these books again, and I’m slowly making my way through the whole series. I might even dust off my copy of Silmarillion, just for fun.
What a wonderful surprise.
*Incidentally, the Lord of the Rings movies were the ones that taught me to separate the books from the films. People will claim the “books are always better” and in many cases this might be true, but I prefer to look at them as entirely separate things. Changes happen because words on the page don’t always translate well onto screen. They have to be adapted. Sometimes this even works to improve the story; I like the Hunger Games movies a LOT better than the books.
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