Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Middle Earth and Life

Tabitha and I have made it through Moria, and are now resting in Lorien.

We started our tour through Middle-earth this summer, when her friend Taryn told her about the movies. The movies would be a bit much for Tabby, though, and we figured that if we started with the books the movies would be less, well, much. So we spent the summer cruising through The Hobbit, and then moved on to the Lord of the Rings in late August.

I have always loved the Lord of the Rings, ever since I first stumbled across it when I was in junior high (which was not middle school then, though it was by the time I graduated). I was at my grandparents' house when the 1970s animated version of the Fellowship of the Ring was on television, and I remember thinking, "This is a great story, but the book HAS to be better than this." So I hied me down to the local library and checked it out. And it was better, no doubt about it.

Eventually, I got around to reading The Hobbit, which was okay. And then I read the Silmarillion, which was just mind-blowing, and - in a preview of my future academic nerdhood - I began my odyssey through all of the subsequent volumes put together by Tolkien's son. I even worked out how to write in Tengwar, the elvish script. This is a useful party trick, and came in handy in 9th grade when The Worst Teacher Ever got snippy at me for the way I wrote my name. So I wrote it in Tengwar for the rest of the year, along with with various snippy comments of my own. Eventually I found out that his daughter took it as a challenge and figured out that the beautifully calligraphed writing at the bottom (hey - if you're going to Challenge The Man, at least do it with style) said snotty-teenage-boy things like "I hope your shorts creep up." TWTE and I had an odd relationship that way - he seemed to enjoy the Tengwar almost as much as the fact that when I would take his multiple choice exams (exams which he was proud to say that nobody had ever gotten an A on in however many years he had been teaching), I would flip coins to determine my answer. Sometimes the coins would hit the 15-foot ceiling of the classroom. "I see Dave's ready," TWTE said one exam day, "He's got his quarter out."

The Lord of the Rings even got me into the workforce. I decided that I wanted the fancy red-leather edition that came in the slipcase, the edition that cost $40 in 1980 (it goes for about double that now). My mother said, "Well, then you can earn the money for it," and so I did. I spent a summer working in the courthouse, helping my mother do title searches, and she paid me out of her own pocket. And when I had $43 saved up (must account for tax!) I rode off to the book store on my red bike and came home triumphant. And then disappeared for a week to read it - a ritual I completed annually until well into my 20s.

Nerdhood, yes, that's me.

So now I am infecting a new generation with the Tolkien bug. So far Tabitha's enjoying it, and she asks lots of questions about the backgrounds of the various characters. Nobody does backstory like Tolkien, so there's always lots to say about that. Eventually we'll try the movies.

I think a lot of why I ended up as a historian can be traced back to that cartoon I saw at my grandparents' house. It led me to Middle-earth, which led me to medieval history in general, which led me here. Not bad for a cartoon.

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