Commentary, geek life, musings

Rediscovering Tolkien: Confessions of a Middle Earth Hipster

image source: lotr.wikia.com
image source: lotr.wikia.com

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.

image source: lotr.wikia.com
image source: lotr.wikia.com

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!

And then….

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.

image source: lotr.wikia.com
image source: lotr.wikia.com

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 didn’t.

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.

image source: lotr.wikia.com
image source: lotr.wikia.com

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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7 thoughts on “Rediscovering Tolkien: Confessions of a Middle Earth Hipster”

  1. I think I might have a similar thing… The only book I’ve really read the last few years is the Silmarillion. Now that I think about it, I wonder if that’s due in part to the fact that it was LotR that was popular, and Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom. It was like my own special secret, inaccessible to a lot of the newer fans exploring Tolkien. Unspoiled, untainted by the imagination of others so how I saw it in my head was unchanged.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The interesting thing about The Hobbit now is that all of my imagined imagery is still there. I separated myself from the other stuff enough for it to come back on its own. It’s so cool how our brains store things like that!

      Like

  2. I’m glad you have rediscovered Tolkien 🙂 and can relate to what you said about the magic being lessened the more widely it is shared..

    This bit made me smile: “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.” …I think this is something to celebrate! if I may say, you did yourself a favour – the fact you were not bothered to see the 3rd movie probably shows you were already reconnecting with the original books, although you hadn’t started to re-read them yet.

    Ultimately, the books celebrate simplicity; there is virtue in humility; the main characters shun power, materialism or celebrity. For me the reason why I long ago disconnected from the movie juggernaut is because the multibillion dollar ‘franchise’ of course cannot uphold those core themes. It seemed a contradiction to the essence of the story. Just my personal experience and view though – I know many many people take great joy from the movies, and that’s cool too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies quite a lot. There was a lot of potential for the Hobbit movies, too. There’s something different about the movie experience that can’t be replicated by anything else (just as there is for a reading experience or a radio show or any other specific medium), and I like seeing the areas of Middle Earth. The nods to deeper things that only the hardcore or older fans will notice are just fine, too.

      I think it’s largely just the over-saturation and (as Cass said above) the obsessive fanbase around Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom that made it too much. It’s the old “too much of a good thing” phenomenon at work. I agree that the books have much more depth to them, but that’s simply a different of medium: movies are one thing and books are another and it’s okay to enjoy them as entirely separate things and for entirely different reasons.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes I do agree – films are a different medium from books and should be judged on their own merit. And they can be incredibly powerful, moving, spectacular forms of art and communication. I actually enjoyed FOTR very much.
        The thing is with the 3rd Hobbit movie, is not that it’s not a faithful adaptation – that’s not really the issue – it’s just (in my humble opinion) quite a poorly made film!

        Like

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