Living for the hobbits

The other day a friend emailed me. He had read a brief article about the new musical adaptation of The Lord of Rings currently being staged (I believe) in Toronto. Not surprisingly, he immediately wanted to know what my thoughts were.

Readers of this blog may not be aware that I a fan of LotR (and yes, I pronounce it to rhyme with “boater”). I am very avid fan, or VAF, and have been for what seems suddenly to have been a very long time. Two decades, in fact, now that I think about it.

But what do I mean by saying I am a VAF? Well, I saw the first two films in Peter Jackson’s epic film adaptation each twice – on their respective opening days. Rather than replicate this feat when the third film arrived, I instead sat through a special marathon screening of the extended versions of FotR and TTT in theatre packed with people in costume followed by the first late night showing of RotK. It was great, and I was intoxicated without once taking my flask from my pocket.

But the Jackson films, masterpieces though they be, have been but a very special treat in what is fast becoming a lifetime of Tolkien Fanaticism. The DVDs — both theatrical and extended versions, of course — occupy one end of the second of eight shelves in the floor-to-ceiling custom-made bookcase that houses the 235 books and media that comprise my collection. Indeed, the “movie era” as I call it was most exciting for the acquisition opportunities it afforded me. Many people evidently decided that the ramp-up to the release of FotR at the end of 2001 was a profitable time to unload long-hoarded cartons of Tolkieniana at used bookstores around the city. And once I discovered this, I was constantly on the prowl, Visa in hand, more than delighted to move the hoard back to my own cave.

But my amassing of worldly goods is a result of how much I love the books themselves. I have read the entire Lord of the Rings fifteen times since I was eight years old, and it is a fresh new adventure every time, a new layer of richness revealed to me with each passing year.

Though I scoffed at the suggestion of friends that the movie hype would sully my passionate fandom, I am now forced to admit that the past six years have taken their toll on me. I burnt out on the constant flow of news on the various fan sites, the sheer wonder of the achievement that Jackson brought to the screen, and the new wonders being published seemingly every time I turned around. And when, after the movie era came suddenly to an end after the extended edition of the third film was released, all the various sites I had been haunting and revelling in for four years quickly devolved into a chaotic morass of celebrity watching and fan fiction, neither of which gripped me. And while I prided myself on the collection I had built up, I had no time to read it, no energy to delve into the dozens and dozens of scholarly texts that I had paid outrageous academic prices for in my years-long spree.

And the realisation that mine will be the last generation that will have to/be able to provide their own vision of Middle-Earth hit me very hard. It crushes me to think that Jackson’s imagination, so nearly perfect as it is in many ways, will almost inevitably become almost insurmountable to all but the most determined imaginations. For the first time I felt painfully that I was surviving the end of something I cherished, living on into a new age that would not be quite the same. I felt old, and sad, and helpless.

So I don’t care much about the singing hobbits on stage. I am sure it will be a splendid thing, and perhaps someday I will see it, should it survive its own novelty to become an enduring work of the theatre (not holding my breath on that, though). But it moves nothing inside me. When my friend asked me my opinion, it felt odd to tell him that I knew literally no more than he: I had read the exact same article in Newsweek that had caught his eye, and not a thing else. Was I really the authority on all things Tolkien that he had meant to consult?

I believe that this reality check was inevitable after the euphoria that I coasted on through the movie era. I was truly a kid in a candy store; I took pictures of the Lord of the Rings display I built at Barnes & Noble for Christmas 2001, and for a while I carried them around like snapshots of a loved one. It was a fun ride while it lasted, but I hope that the post-movie comedown will lead me back to the where my passion and joy really lie: the page. After so many hours staring at screens of various sizes, I have a lot of reading to do.

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