Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Familiar Friend

I wanted to write this the day of, but I've been rather busy, so a day late will have to do.

As of February 4, 2009, it was exactly 7 years since the first day I started reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time.

We'd only been living in our new house for a few months. I was 10 years old, and I wanted something to hold onto. I hated change, and I never dealt well with it. Maybe that's part of why The Lord of the Rings meant so much from the beginning: it made sense when nothing else did.

I watched the first movie shortly after that. I watched it in theaters five times. It was the first movie to make me cry. I didn't finish the books for between two and three months, as it was a heavy read for a 10-year-old.

My parents had been Tolkien fans since college, and my older brother and sister had both already read them. It became almost a family tradition. The Two Towers was released in theaters, and I went to watch that. By now I had read the books twice, and had gone back and re-read The Hobbit (which I originally read when I was about 8 years old). I saw that in theaters four times. By now I was already starting to get a reputation as a Tolkien freak. My friends called me Frodo. I had my mother make me my “Galadriel dress” (which I still have, though we had to add a ruffle a few years back due to how much I grew).

It was around the time The Two Towers was released that I started work in earnest on what is now known as The Gallery. It started with a poster with pictures of all the members of the Fellowship on it. I begged my mother to be allowed to hang it up, and she said I could put it in the stairway leading to the girls' room (basically because that was an out of the way corner). After that I asked for the The Lord of the Rings calendar pages at the end of 2002, and she let me have them. The original poster (much torn and patched) is still there, as are all of those calendar pages. But now there are well over 200 other pictures.

I read The Lord of the Rings twice a year in the beginning, and watched Fellowship of the Ring at least twice a month, despite my family protesting I watched it far too often. I read The Silmarillion when I was 12. That Christmas The Return of the King was released, and I was finally allowed my dream: I got to see it in theaters on opening day. It was an experience I'll never forget, partly because I was in costume, and partly because I spend most of the movie crying my eyes out.

It was because of The Lord of the Rings that I started to put a lot of effort into my writing. I wanted to make stories like that. I had been writing short pieces for as long as I could remember, but at the age of 11 I started my first fantasy novel (which, after two more starts and major reworks, was finally finished in 2007 and is now in the process of editing). I wrote dozens of poems based on The Lord of the Rings.

It was near the end of 2005 that my brother and I discovered the music videos for Lord of the Rings, and suddenly we realized that we actually liked contemporary music. Suddenly the kids who never listened to anything but Lord of the Rings soundtracks were obsessed with Queen and Creed (not the best bands to start out with, but we were rather clueless). I heard Relient K for the first time about a year later, in a Lord of the Rings video.

When I started obsessively browsing the web for Lord of the Rings websites, I came across several beautiful wallpapers and banners. I knew I wanted to do that too. That was how I started graphic design. Even now a good 50% of my graphics are done by experimenting with Lord of the Rings pictures and themes. It was through a Lord of the Rings forum, Arwen-Undomiel, that I really developed my design skills (not to mention making some absolutely incredible friends).

Basically, I would not be in my current major if not for Lord of the Rings.

But there are a few things that, to me, are more important than all the things I did... more important than the hours spent writing elvish poetry with a quill pen on paper I had aged, the hundreds of dollars spent on merchandise and swords, the rambles on the differences between and origins of Quenya and Sindarin that I can spout off to anyone who will listen. I grew up so much through those stories. They became my way to make sense of the things that I had no way of understanding.

The year I was 14 I had no good friends. I was getting over the end of the closest friendship I had ever had at that point, I was alone, and I was terrified. I had no one to talk to about anything. I didn't even know how to talk about things. But I knew the story of The Lord of the Rings, and above all else, that story had taught me to believe one thing: no matter what's happening, no matter what might happen, even if you don't have any hope, even if you're alone, you keep fighting. Never give up on light. Never stop trying to do the right thing.

I understood that concept, though it wasn't for another two years that I understood that it's one that comes from God. I understood Lord of the Rings long before I understood the Bible or really knew how to pray. I was a spiritual embryo until I was 16. For me Lord of the Rings is just another sign of God's enduring faithfulness, and His hand in my life: even before I really knew Him, He was teaching me through the only channel I left open.

I would spend long stretches of time sitting alone on the stairs, talking to a picture of Legolas. He was the only one who was there to listen. It kept me sane some days, though I'm sure it sounds much the opposite. Some days I also talked to a picture of Boromir. I would say hello to them even when I just walked by.

When I joined Clean Place a lot of things changed. I think for most people, their first impression of me was “that girl who's freakishly obsessed with Lord of the Rings.” It was all I talked about, and anyone who dared mention liking it got absolutely smothered by me. Within those first few months I was a member, Lissi and I had a few very long, drawn out conversations about Elvish history. When Rivus joined, I asked Faith if he liked Lord of the Rings, because that was the way I judged how “cool” people were. When she said he did, I decided it was OK to talk to him.

A lot has changed in the nearly three years since then. People say I don't seem as obsessed anymore. That's true and not true at the same time. I have realized that it doesn't need to be my entire life. I've grown beyond that, through God's grace. I've realized that some things are more important than how many times I've seen The Fellowship of the Ring.

But I'm just as much of a “fan” as ever – perhaps more so. As I grow older, I find more and more relevance and meaning to different parts of the story. It's like an old friend I can always come back to on a dark night or a lonely summer day, curled up in some corner of who I was, who I am, and who I hope to become. Things I learned from the stories have stayed with me.

And in the end, that's part of why I've allowed it to take a bit more of a back seat in my life. Didn't I learn from the stories to always do what's right? If I spend my whole life lost in another world, how could I do that? It's because of what I learned from the stories that I have changed their role in my life. I don't know if that makes any sense at all in my head, but my heart understands it.

One way or another, the stories are part of who I am, and that will never change. They have left a mark on me that's far too strong to wash away. God works in funny ways. He's awesome like that.

And it all started because on a night in February of 2002 a 10-year-old opened a battered, 25-year-old paperback of The Fellowship of the Ring and started reading.

- Elraen, the Wandering Star -

1 comment:

MangyCat said...

Wow, I knew you had been obsessed with LOTR (and your assessment of my overall first impression on CP is correct ;o)), but I had no idea it had shaped so much of your life. If Tolkien knew how much of an effect his books had, he would be well pleased.