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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