It all started back when I was in college, a freshman most likely.
I was using my in-laws’ computer and internet connection to work on an assignment for one of my English classes, and the browser home news page contained a headline that drew my eye as surely as if it had been written in flashing neon letters: Cate Blanchett talks about being Galadriel. Because you see The Hobbit is the first book I remember having read to me by my mother, when I was two years old; and that reading is the event that formed my earliest fascination with words and story, and which drove me to learn to read and to become a writer of fantasy stories of my own. The Silmarillion was my favorite book from fifth grade until I came across another perspective-changing book when I was sixteen. I used to be able to draw, from memory, J.R.R. Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth, because I had done it so often. I could name you all of the Valar and their functions, recite the names and fates of every one of the Sons of Fëanor. Among my friends I have always been known as the Tolkien geek, the expert, the one who can tell you anything you want to know about Middle Earth. I write about elves in my work because of my fascination with the concepts that Tolkien liked to explore about immortality and how that would inform one’s ideas of beauty, creation, learning, love, power, isolation, family, death, and loss. I spent my childhood dreaming of the possibility that one day, movie-making technology might finally be up to the tall order of bringing The Lord of the Rings to the big screen. That would basically be the pinnacle of everything I had ever wanted from cinema.
So I saw that headline. It was all down the fandom rabbit hole from there. Anyone who knew me back then will be able to tell you that I only just managed to keep my real life under control in the midst of my obsession with the process of those movies coming to life.
Anyone who followed the drama surrounding the Hobbit film project coming to life can also tell you that it was never certain there would be a Hobbit movie until it was actually physically happening. I made a tactical decision, early on, that I couldn’t afford the level of perseveration with the fandom that I had eventually come to during the years that LotR was getting made and released — especially not for something so unlikely to happen (or to happen the way I wanted it to, back when Peter Jackson was not going to be involved,) so I didn’t follow the news or the process at all. For all intents and purposes, I have been disconnected from the Tolkien film fandom for the last ten years.
This weekend I was finally able to obtain and watch a copy of the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey and all of the special features. And I have to say, I was looking forward to it with keen anticipation, yes, but I did not expect to get so emotional while watching the behind-the-scenes material and reliving the experience of being a fan back in the days of the LotR trilogy. The nostalgia of seeing all of those familiar sets, and art, and the remembered faces of the crew, and that particular camaraderie that occurs with Peter Jackson’s people. It was a bit like having one foot back in 2001 and all of the emotions of that time, but looking at it through the lens of everything I’ve lived through since then and all the subtle tones of how those years have changed me.
I was genuinely teary during the sections of the featurette about Hobbiton and Rivendell. I remember those places. I remember the innovation, the blood, sweat, and tears that went into them the first time, how hard the crew worked to bring these places to life for us.
I remember being a fan hungrily waiting online with other fans for each and every still, teaser, and news item that trickled through to us through the ether (and staunchly enduring the insane download times for what we would now consider laughably small files!), discussing every little bit of it to death because that was all we could do to try to keep our excitement under control while we waited for the finished product. I remember how my heart raced in the theatre the first time the camera opened on that reveal shot of the Shire from Gandalf’s cart, and I was just screaming inside my head, “This is it this is the Shire this is Middle Earth that’s Gandalf it’s actually happening it’s on the screen in front of me it’s real no way no way no way!” I remember the tears that sprang to my eyes when the sorrowful but proud dwarf music swelled in Moria, and the camera panned up and up to show us the grandeur of this world that had been lost. I remember how I couldn’t breathe when the Balrog stepped onto that bridge and Gandalf stood in his path. I remember bawling like my heart had broken as I watched the Fellowship mourn Gandalf’s fall, even though I knew perfectly well he would later make a triumphant return to save the world. I remember the struggle to keep my emotions under control through the rest of the film, knowing what was coming, and really only sort of managing it, because Peter Jackson kept the mood so brilliantly unsettled until that final battle on the banks of the Anduin. I remember the actual physical pain in my chest as I watched Boromir make his last heroic stand. I remember being grateful that the credits were so long and that my husband likes to stay until they’re done, because it took me that long to stop crying and we were there with friends and I don’t like people to know that I feel things as deeply as I do (or at all.)
I remember the agony of waiting an entire year, and then another year after that, to finally see the story through to the end. And of course, the heartbreak when it did end. In a very real sense, the breaking of another Fellowship as all of us fans drifted away from each other and lost touch once there were no more films to wait for and talk about. A defining era in my life, over forever.
I remembered of that, felt all of that, struggled with it, as I watched the special features on the AUJ: EE disc with one foot back in 2001 and the other in the now facing forward. And felt a bit silly for doing so, for crying, but I was by myself, so it was all right. But despite feeling silly, it was a real experience, and a strong and truthful one, and I can feel it bursting out of me, needing to be revealed. This is me, revealing it: I do feel things that deeply, this silly Tolkien stuff is that important to me, I am that crazy-obsessive even if I can just manage to keep it under control these days. I do miss those days, those people, that feeling of youth and irresponsibility.
Yeah, a documentary about the making of a fantasy film made me cry. And you know what? I love that those feelings are still there to be tapped and that I can be blindsided by them.
And here I thought I’d just be watching the bonus features to catch glimpses of the elusive Mr. Armitage at work.
Roll on December 13th. I’m ready for the Desolation.