Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just A Story: Lord of the Rings

When I was 13 years old, in the deepest throes of my Lord of the Rings fandom days, my family gathered for a reunion in Tennessee. The final movie installment, Return of the King, had released the winter before, and despite being on a 12-year-old’s budget with a 12-year-old’s transportation challenges, I’d managed to scrape together enough allowance to see the movie in theaters 6 times. Now I was eagerly awaiting the DVD release, constantly adding to my memorabilia collection, and wearing a One Ring on a chain around my neck (as I did for at least five years of my life).

During that reunion, I remember a morning where I escaped the hubbub of family breakfast to sit at a table by the lake, watching the morning waves wash the rocks over and over again, imagining it was the sea. My great aunt came out to join me, and she noticed the ring on my chain. I told her about how much I loved the stories, and she listened with a kind of attention adults rarely gave me. When I finished, she sat back and looked at me for a moment. “Mary, what do you think the greatest lesson you’ve learned from those stories is?”

I paused, struggling to put into words the weight of what I drew from that narrative, the fantasy that was more real to me than anything else I’d ever known. “I think it’s that you have to keep going, you have to keep doing the right thing-- even if sometimes you can’t see any hope that you’re going to make it through.”

It’s 2012 now, over eight years since that conversation, over a decade since I first picked up the books or went to see Fellowship of the Ring in the theater. I’ve worked half a dozen jobs, gone to college and earned my B.A., owned my first car, gotten engaged. And yet there is a part of me that is still that kid who dedicated hours to writing poetry in elvish, who put up nearly 300 Lord of the Rings pictures and posters in a hallway. That is not all I am now-- my life is bigger, and my heart holds more. But there will always be a part of me that is still tethered there.

There are very few stories that are “just” a story. We take these stories, these narratives, and they become part of our own story-- and in that way they are incredibly, piercingly real. Lord of the Rings has shaped me in a way very few other stories could. It informed my hobbies, pushed me to make friends with incredible people all over the world, taught me a deeper appreciation for myth and literature, and strengthened and shaped my faith. And it’s not just my story-- that is the beautiful thing. It’s a story I share with everyone else who claims it as a favorite, who has left a piece of themselves in Middle Earth. We might all live it in different ways, for different reasons, and it means different things to different people, but it belongs to all of us equally.

For me the story has become my story because of that simple lesson I could already put into words when I was 13, a truth that became increasingly adamant to me as I grew up and learned that the “real world” was so much darker and harder than even Lord of the Rings could have prepared me for. We all have our journeys through Mordor. We all have our rings to carry, our burdens like chains around our necks, threatening to wear us away to nothing. And in the moments of my life when I can see absolutely no practical reason to believe there is anything on the other side of the dark, when the idea of a return journey after everything that has happened seems impossible-- I remember this story that I claimed as a 10-year-old. You keep going. Even if you don’t get to know how it ends. Even if all the odds are against you. Even if it seems like you’ve lost everything, that the whole world is crumbling. Samwise Gamgee gives the reason well: we hold on because “there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.” And sometimes, against all the odds... you reach the end of the fight and find that everything sad comes untrue.

It was never just a story.

“Though here at journey’s end I lie
In darkness buried deep,
Beyond all towers strong and high,
Beyond all mountains steep,
Above all shadows rides the Sun
And Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the day is done,
Nor bid the stars farewell.”
- Return of the King

- Elraen -


NarnianWarHorse said...

Beautifully put, Elraen. Thank you for this reminder. :) What would we do without stories like these??

"There is nothing in literature which does not, in some degree, percolate into life." - C. S. Lewis

I have often wondered, as Frodo said so well, "what sort of a tale we've fallen into." And how it all will end. But just knowing what -and Who- waits on the other side, is quite enough. :)
I think my heart will always reside, in one why or another, somewhere between Lantern Waste and Middle Earth. :)

Eclectic Elegance said...

I really, really liked this post. :-) Having recently begun to immerse myself in LotR...and having grown up loving The Hobbit as an 11 year old child...I really understand what you're saying about claiming stories as a kid and how they shape you as you become an adult.