The Ones That Stay In the Mind

When we think of LIFE-CHANGING EVENTSwe tend to think of dramatic, riveting affairs, laden with epiphany. But there are sneaky changes, that insinuate themselves like sun exposure turns into a tan or sunburn. All at once you realize what’s happened, and wondered when it started, and  you trace it back to what seemed like the most insignificant of events.

One of these sneaky changes started one Christmas morning, with a decidedly unexciting gift.

Christmas presents under the tree by Alan Cleaver, on Flickr

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver on Flickr

I was around that age where I was still excited about having lived enough years to need TWO DIGITS to count them. I get books every year, usually unwrapped and stuffed into my stocking, or in between the branches of the tree. But that year the books sat soberly to one side, as if apart from the festive wrapping and decorations. It was a collection of three-volume tomes that were far too large and heavy to do anything but sit by themselves on the floor. For a kid who was excited about double-digits, they were slightly daunting. The title and medieval-ish cover art summoned up no sort of recognition. I judged them to be old books that had probably been written a long time ago by some dead white guy. I suspected my father of being behind this, as he was always trying to educate me or something, and decided to move on to more exciting gifts.

Later my family forced me to go see the movie version of the book. Seeing a Christmas day movie is somewhat of a tradition, but I was dead set on Harry Potter, and not more than a little miffed that I was outvoted. I was skeptical right up to the opening titles.


When I walked out of the theater, I was quite literally entranced. I could not adequately comprehend the amount of awesome intake I had just experienced, it was the epitome of mind: BLOWN. As soon as I could put my hands back on those sober tomes waiting for me at home I devoured them ravenously. I couldn’t talk about anything else for six months after.

It’s been over ten years since I first saw and read the Lord of the Rings, and I’ve been waiting since then for The Hobbit to get its turn on the silver screen. The way I’m going into The Hobbit could not be more diametrically opposed to the way I went into LOTR. Where I was once the very picture of preteen/teenage apathy, I am now a twenty-something bubbling with excitement like a four-year old in a toy store.  And regardless of how eagerly I read those books, there’s some things that a preteen is just too young to understand.

Ten years ago, I have to admit I didn’t like the hobbits. They were too ordinary. Strider, the heroic dark stranger, was always my favorite. And I couldn’t understand why my dad teared up when everyone bows to the hobbits at the end of ROTK. But The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit both are nothing if not tales about the extraordinary that exists in any ordinary man, if only it’s given the chance to appear. The things that don’t catch our attention right away are sometimes the most important.

I’ve always had some notion that LOTR was in some part responsible for some of the major life choices I’ve made,but I think that it helped me figure a lot of things out. Like it’s okay to be ENTHUSIASTIC about the things you like, and that when you let it show without being embarrassed about liking something so nerdy, it can lead to some of the best friendships of a lifetime. And that the people who like you more for your manic enthusiasm, even if they don’t share or even understand the sentiment, are the ones worth keeping around. The ones who think that that sort of enthusiasm is something to be judged negatively are too close-minded to ever get it. And realizing those types of things has let me become a thoroughly happy, comfortable person.

In the years since that Christmas, I’ve gotten the much nicer, 50-year anniversary edition as another Christmas present, and have bought a more convenient paperback edition for travel.  And despite the fact that it looks a little shabby next to the fancy collector’s edition, I’ve never been able to give up that original three-volume set.

The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo, adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind.

Samwise Gamgee

– J. R. R. Tolkien

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