How I got hooked, or my first meeting with Tolkiens work
I have to admit it, i am a sucker for fantasy, in every shape and form, be it novels, movies, even music or art. I am plowing through every book I can get my hands on and I have to my dread and horror realized that I am slowly becoming more and more of a nerd. Yes, one of those!
I realized that some years ago and I am constantly being reminded of this fact, the last time when I went to see The battle of the Five armies for the first time, oh my god how excited I was, I was shivering! Yes, the most important events this winter was not Christmas eve nor new year’s eve, it was the two times I went to see that movie. The movie theater where I went to see the film has a magazine that is for free for the people coming to see movies and in that month’s issue there was a list of characters within both the hobbit and Lotr movies and it explained whether or not they actually exist in the books. I went through it and lo and behold, I found a mistake, and I could not help myself, I had to point it out to my partner. “ Honey, see! This is wrong, that isn’t the name of some orc, that’s one of the balrogs that killed FŽanor in the first age damn it”
That look I got from my beloved spoke volumes, yes guilty as charged. I am becoming a geek.
Seeing the last hobbit movie was tough, simply because it was the last one, the end, no more. Now I only can wait for the extended version and hope that there is a lot of extra material on it. My partner asked me if there is any chance of them filming the Silmarillion, oh I hope so, but that would have to be a CGI tv series, or many movies. And if they were to film it with actors and all it would be the casting crews ultimate nightmare, finding that many actors able to play elves? Hopeless. But it would be marvelous though. They did a brilliant job with casting the hobbit, I mean, who other than Lee Pace could have portayed Thranduil to such a degree of perfection? But as I told my partner, the silmarillion covers several ages and there is a heck of a lot of characters.
So what is it about fantasy and Tolkien in special that is so captivating? What is it about it that genre that creates such passion and love? I cannot answer for everybody else but I know that it too me represents so much more than just some entertaining stories. It is a whole world, a universe so complex and inspiring it creates deep awe, and I cannot imagine the amount of work that has gotten into all of it. The history, the races, the languages. Nothing that well done and thorough is worthy of anything less than absolute respect.
It stimulates the mind and the imagination in a way that no other genre can, and it also represents a refuge from the harsh reality of everyday life. I do not know how many times I have been sitting there, allowing my mind to drift away to some magical realm and forgotten about my problems. I have imagined sailing the seas of Earthsea or riding a dragon, or galloped across the vast plains of Rohan. To anyone who loves fantasy this is something that is recognizable and well known, any new book is a doorway to a new world, to a new reality filled with wonder and amazement. To hold a book in your hand is to prepare for the plunge into adventure once more, and then you can let go and just drift along with the flow of the story, and whence in that state it doesn’t matter that the house looks as though a tornado has gone through it and neither does the huge pile of bills waiting to be paid.
Some may say that this is a sign of being a bit of a loser, that it shows weakness or a lack of will to face reality. Many say that people who really dedicate themselves to such literature are afraid of life or just stupid. I would claim that the opposite is true, to truly appreciate the subtle nuances of a great story you have to allow yourself to really experience what the writer has been putting into his work of emotions and yes, that can sometimes be rather hard. Who hasn’t been sitting with a book and cried, laughed, felt joy, fear, sorrow and anger? Who hasn’t suffered with the favorite characters, cheered them on or felt the despair when things seems to go the wrong way? I have the habit of disappearing completely into the story when I read and also when I write. The house could catch fire around me but I would not notice it. When I am in that state of mind that is all that there is.
It is not a bad thing being able to care this much about something, to become so consumed by something and to let one’s imagination run wild. In fact it is very good for the mind and the brain too, many these days have hardly opened a book at all and they do not know how to really read. They may read the words but their minds lack the ability to create the images to go with the words, their imagination is not developed because it never has had the chance to be awakened. They have never had to come up with anything on their own, their entertainment is just there, ready to be consumed on some screen and all they have to do is sit there and take it all inn. It is not like that with books, oh no. It requires that you can think and feel and I have so many times been plowing through a good book dying to get to the end and when I have reached the last page I am saddened that I did read that fast for this should have lasted longer.
I once read about a survey that tried to determine how smart people were judging by what sort of music they were listening to. It wasn’t exactly a bomb that the people who listened to classical music were the smartest but some may have been shocked by the fact that those who enjoy heavy metal was on a good number two. Well, listening to the lyrics of some bands and comparing them with the lyrics of some pop musicians kind of explains that. I bet it is the same thing with those who read fantasy, some stories are so marvelously complex with so many layers of both politics, relations and cultures. It requires a bit of a brain to understand all the subtle details of it all and some stories just continue to grow on you every time you read them. You always discover something new of which you were oblivious before.
I did in fact discover that many bands have music inspired by Tolkiens work and my partner usually know when I am in writing mode cause then I am often listening to nightfall in middle earth by Blind guardian and the volume is on max. That album is the bands tribute to silmarillion and it goes through some of the most important events of the great book. It is a good idea to read about it on Wikipedia before one starts to listen, it explains the lyrics and so on. So Tolkien has inspired a lot more than just the generations of fantasy writers who came after him, he has also inspired great music. I have also listened to David Arkenstone’s album music inspired by middle earth and there is so many amazing works of art out there with the spirit of Tolkien visible within. Who hasn’t seen the work of John Howe or Allen Lee and felt just awe and amazement at both their talent and the wonderful way they manage to capture a world so filled with wonders there is no end to them? And the great thing is, they are far from the only ones.
So I do not see it as a waste of time when I sit in my couch with a good book or sit by my computer reading all the wonderful fan fiction I have discovered. It brings me joy and nothing that gives you pleasure and entertainment, that makes you think and feel and even shed a few tears every now and then is wasted time or worthless past time. The true meaning of art is that it is able to move you and show you new and different aspects of well known thoughts. And that is what so much of the great fantasy is, true art.
There is a start to everything and I can clearly remember my first encounters with fantasy, it began when I was a toddler. Yes, I could not read nor write but I entertained my grandparents for hours with long tales about the creatures I was used to from my own imagination and it was very influenced by the mythology of my country. Being Norwegian that meant trolls and wood nymphs and so on and so forth.
Tolkien was a bit influenced by the Norse mythology and the ancient sagas from my part of the world and I guess that is one of the reasons why I felt so attracted to his writings right away. The weird thing is, I didn’t even know Tolkien existed until I was in my late teens. It is true, and it is rather strange for many reasons. I was the one oddball among the kids, being a girl I was supposed to play with dolls, be docile and gentle and so on but no, no way. This girl ran around in the pastures with home made bows, arrows made from sticks and twigs and cardboard quivers, and wooden swords. I once fired an arrow inside of my room and shot it through the wall and into the adjacent bathroom, there is still a hole in the wall.( I never told my parents the truth about that incident) I was reading every fairytale I could get my hands upon, Norwegian tales, 1001 nights, fairytales from America, from every corner of the world and I knew the entire mythology of both my own country and the Greece and Roman mythology. I was devouring it, and loving it.
We have a long tradition with the telling of tales in my country and in the late eighteen hundreds some scholars AsbjÝrnsen and Moe gathered the ancient tales into some rather impressive collections. I read them all. Then, when I was twelve I came across a book in a guestroom in our house, it was hidden behind some other books but my endless and burning curiosity towards everything written made me find it nevertheless. It was a collection of fairytales gathered by the same scholars but these were…..adult….in nature. It was the book erotic folk tales, illustrated version. I read it, several times and the day after my mom saw it and needless to say, that book went missing, asap. I think I was driving my parents more or less nuts with my enthusiasm regarding reading.
At ten I got a library card and could get all the books I wanted from the local library and I would go there every Saturday and come home with rarely less than twenty books. I was the librarian’s dream/nightmare all in one body for I went through the children/youth shelves in just a few months and then I threw my glance at the adult part of the library. They must have thought I was a bit mad.
Then I discovered the comic book Elfquest and I was hooked for years, it became my biggest joy waiting for a new issue and it made me start drawing and making some rather terrible comics on my own. The drawings were awful but the stories were good and I still have them stored in my head. I was still reading a lot, but in Norway at that time there was little fantasy translated, it wasn’t really that popular yet and the publishers didn’t take the risk on publishing books they weren’t sure would sell.
So I wasn’t until I was at senior high that I discovered Tolkien and that was by chance. My English teacher had given the students the task of reading a book in English, to me that was no problem at all, I was already rather fluent but the rest of the class was terrified. It was the same language teacher that made his class in language knowledge learn how to read old Norse, I loved that but my poor classmates did not. We had to buy and read “The saga of Gunnlaug Wormtongue” and I can even to this day recite parts of it from my memory. It is really fun to see the way Tolkien used words and how closely his method resembles that of the old sagas, the rhythm of the language and story is very similar, at least in the Silmarillion. I remember seeing the extended version of Two towers and when watching the scene where Eowyn sings at her cousins funeral it made me jump in the couch grinning like crazy, I could understand a lot of that song since old English and old Norse is rather similar. There is a lot of words in English that originally were Norwegian. We have a lot to thank the Vikings for I guess.
I went to the school library and there, in a shelf with a lot of worn out pocket books in English I saw one book. It was grey, worn and so old the letters on the back was gone, I didn’t knew what book it was at all.
But it spoke to me, something that worn by many hands had to be loved, it had to have some quality, something special right? And that in spite of the sheer size for it was thick, and the letters small. And so I borrowed it and I was hooked. For the next three days I didn’t open any other book, not even my schoolwork. I was reading the lord of the rings, period. Not even my mother dared disturb me and I was completely taken by everything about it, the language, the images the story created in my head, the way he painted a vivid picture of a world so much more compelling and attractive than my own. I devoured the book, then I read it again, and again.
I bet I am not the only one who has had that sort of first encounter with Tolkien’s work, a sort of almost religious awakening and to me it introduced me to real fantasy for the first time. I had been reading such stuff before but it had been written for children and slowly as I matured it shaped me, my personality and my preferences in many ways. I was an extremely shy and timid kid when around others, I had no self esteem and very little belief in myself but the books provided me with a safety valve, an escape when the world seemed too harsh.
I read the silmarillion and the hobbit and I made my own Tolkien Calendars, spent hour upon hour drawing the images I created in my mind. I had awakened and there was no going back. I was leaving that shy little kid who only felt well whilst being alone with a book behind and I found who I was. And the books were there the whole way, every darn step on the way. In my bookshelves there is a special place, my Tolkien books are placed there beside my bible and some old diaries. The bible is there because it was a gift, not that I read it. My personal bible is something very different indeed.
I started writing, at first it was only to let out some steam, then when I went to college I started writing for real, thinking about having something published. It became the first books of a series I am still writing on and later I wrote yet another series of six books and I just started writing one more last year. And of course it is fantasy, heavily influenced by my own views and attitudes I must admit. It was when I started writing that I also discovered fan fiction, I found Henneth Annun right after it was founded and I spent many an hour reading the many amazing stories there when I really should be studying.
I studied forestry, wildlife and wilderness management, yep, not your average thing to choose but I love nature, I thrive within it and I need it like I need air. I once joked with a friend of mine that I probably have been misplaced somehow, that I with my intense love for open woodland and pine forests probably really belong in middle earth as a wood elf.
Then the first Lotr movie came, I was still at college and I managed to get my hands upon some behind the scenes books with articles and pictures and when a friend who also happened to be a huge fan saw them he kissed them!! I went to see the movies several times, the college I went to lay in the middle of nowhere so there was no way you could get anywhere without a car. The solution? I had my own car and offered to drive others to the movie theater in the next town if they paid my ticket. I became very popular indeed.
And I noticed a change, before the Lord of the Rings movies being a fantasy fan was almost a bit frowned upon, you were automatically seen as a looser who sat in your parent’s cellar playing dungeons and dragons with other nerdy looser kids, eating pizza drinking coke and suffering from a severe case of social angst. If you participated in live role play or something like that you were weird and if you played any games on your computer you were in danger of becoming crazy.
And then it changed, others became aware of this world we all love so much and the status changed, suddenly one could be peppered with questions from the unfortunate beings who hadn’t read the books and had no clue about the history of the world and the characters. And when you could answer in detail they would stare back at you with awe and disbelief and ask even more questions. Isn’t that what one might call revenge of the nerds? And such a sweet revenge indeed.
I love when I see programs on tv explaining the way Tolkien was inspired by the mythology of different countries, explaining the languages he created and what inspired him. I was ticked off when there was a huge uproar among some conservative people who felt that all this fantasy stuff would drive people and the youth in special away from the Christian belief, they could not have read any of his work at all.
I bought the extended versions of every Lotr movie and so did my partner so when we moved in together we discovered that we had the same movies in our shelves, with two copies of everything one does feel a little safer.
Recently I have been writing a lot of fan fiction, my mind is stuck in middle earth. I have published work of my own, and I have deadlines and things I really should be doing but no, when my muses tell me that I have to write something I have to do it, or else I go mad, literally!
When I am out in the woods whole stories drop into my head and demand being written and I obey, willingly and with glee. Fantasy became a part of my salvation I think, it helped me see who I really was and now I look back upon the person I was and know that I would have become someone I wouldn’t like to be if I had continued trying to please everybody but myself. Being the one everybody expect you to be is a killer if that one person isn’t who you really are. Yes, I can talk for hours about things like medieval weapons, sieges, battle tactics , swords and horses and how to survive in the wild but ask me how to iron a set of curtains and I am utterly confused. I will never be a perfect housewife, that is for darn sure.
My partner has never read any of Tolkien’s work, he doesn’t like reading that much but I have managed to get him hooked on fantasy and that is a feat of which I am proud. I have spent many a good hour in the couch with a glass of wine explaining everything from the history of middle earth to the different cultures within this wonderful made up world and I know that he accepts the nerd in me completely. He often smirks at me and tells me how great he thinks it is when I sit here writing some fan fiction story, laughing when I write something funny or sitting with my jaw clenched and a rather harsh gaze if I write something that is thrilling or unpleasant.
But that is just the way it is, writing fan fiction is for me a great joy, yes writing in itself is almost as important to me as being outdoors. When you write you become a God in your own universe and nothing can be more empowering than that? Yes, we torment and hurt our favorite characters but that is because we love them to death and I bet that Tolkien would have enjoyed seeing all the creativity his work has triggered. There are so many talented writers out there, I am getting more and more in awe of you all.
I wasn’t one of those who waited in line for weeks to buy tickets for the premiere of the movies, I would if I could. I wasn’t showing up wearing costume when I first saw the movies, although I would have loved to. But I am showing my appreciation of this wonderful work of art every day when I write whatever fan fiction it is that has possessed that poor brain of mine. It can be frustration indeed when I have a good idea and I just have to go to work instead of writing, I guess that is something almost everybody is familiar with. In this house it is rather evident that at least one fantasy geek lives here, there are dragon posters on the walls, sci fi space art painted and hung up, dragon lamps in the living room and a sword on the wall. Yes, I have a sword, and when my partner gave that to me I was smiling so widely I swear I looked like a hamburger. It was that grin that other women have when they have been presented with a huge diamond ring. But this gal? Nope, no bling bling for me, it is just trinkets. Really, what could possibly say “ I love you and trust you” more than a weapon that you potentially could kill the dude with?
And so I am more than one hundred percent sure that this small obsession of mine will continue, I will write both my own work and maybe if the stars are smiling make a name for myself as a writer one day and I will most certainly continue to write fan fiction and mostly within the Tolkien Fandom, it is what I love the most, seriously, who can’t love it?
I will read the stories of all the wonderful talented writers out there and get new ideas, learn more stuff and be a part of a group of fans for which I have the outmost respect. Sharing a passion creates something very precious and wonderful and as I continue to read and write the passion for what I do and the fascination for middle earth just gets stronger. So to everybody out there, keep up the amazing work you are doing, never let anything stand in your way and may Eru bless the fact that Professor Tolkien brought us such amazing treasure.
This is none fiction, just a small essay.
I bet many of you can recognize a bit of what i am describing here, my first encounter With Tolkiens work was one of those moments in life that changes everything, that shapes fate and it has indeed enriched my life in every way.
Chapter end notes:
So this is how this forest troll came to be a part of the community of Tolkien fan fiction writers.