the geek life

Rediscovering Tolkien: Confessions of a Middle Earth Hipster

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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.

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I remember the thrill of first finding a small website,, 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 Nazg├╗l 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.

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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.

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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.

the geek life

Thoughts on The Desolation of Smaug… A small hobbity commentary

Hobbit DoS poster 1

I saw The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug this weekend and here are some of my thoughts on it, slightly out of order and really just as they occur to me. My full review can be found here.

1) While I don’t generally mind changes in book-to-movie adaptations, I feel like this movie was strongest when it rang true to the book and weakest where the deviations were strongest.

2) I really like Tauriel as a character. It makes sense to have specific elves present and I like having a female character in an otherwise completely male cast. When they retread Arwen’s healing skills with her (and reduce her to a love triangle) I think it’s a detriment to her as a character.

3) It makes perfect sense for us to see Legolas in the movie, seeing as his dad is so prominent in the story.

4) Much as I love Beorn… He could’ve been completely cut. We either needed to slow down and have some sort of plot point at Beorn’s house, or the dwarves could’ve just run for the forest and been done with it. As it was, the whole thing felt rushed and extra.

5) I do not understand how a. Thorin wasn’t burned to death sitting on a metal cart in molten gold and then b. still expected the dragon to be killed by it. Logical fallacy at best.

6) Bilbo’s reactions to the Ring are wonderful! Especially the details about being able to understand the spiders’ speech while wearing it.

7) Smaug was amazing. The film-makers completely did him justice and despite the logical issues in the molten gold scene, he still comes off the better for it. Who’d have guessed the dragon would be my favorite part?

8) Laketown was, I think, perfect as a set. Well, until the orcs and elves turned up, that is.

9) Story wise, I think the loss of the people’s enthusiasm for the dwarves could make the dragon attack less poignant. I could be wrong, as that’s the next movie.

10) Other than justifying the orcs and elves in Laketown (which as I’ve said I didn’t like anyway), I can’t think of any reason for the four dwarves to be left behind. I’m honestly expected to believe that after ALL of the things they’ve experienced together, those four wouldn’t at least try to follow? I get that Kili is injured…but it bothers me.

11) I really like getting to see what Gandalf is doing when he continually leaves the dwarves on their own, and it sets up the events in LotR better.

As I’ve said before, this was a very good action/fantasy film and I’m sure critics will like it better because it’s faster paced (which is the trend right now). It may be a really good action movie, but it’s very bad Tolkien. I’ll have to go see it again and find out how I react when the surprises are gone and I’m just watching it as a movie, see what I notice. And it may be that the extended edition fixes many of my complaints with the breakneck pacing and lack of plot point at Beorn’s house.

So there we go. Random thoughts on DoS.