I feel almost silly, saying that a series of movies changed my life. But they did.
I was raised in a community that wasn’t quite accepting of kids with personality. Well, maybe I don’t want to say that. We were just misunderstood. Imagination wasn’t exactly looked upon as a positive thing. Work was what was expected of us, along with good grades in school.
I was a bit more lucky, in a way. My parents weren’t as strict as my friends’ parents. They were both working so I was at home a lot with my brothers and an aunt or some other adult that watched us. Once I was around third or fourth grade, it was usually just me and my four brothers. We spent a huge chunk of our time outside, though we’d recently acquired a Nintendo system and Super Mario. We played with the neighbors. Wall ball, cops and robbers, things like that. My friends and I role-played. Man, I had an imagination. When I was pretending to be April O’Neil, I could see Leo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello standing in front of me. When I was standing on the armchair of our sofas, I was in the air on the back of a dragon or whatever Pokemon I was crazy about at that time. I assumed this was normal. Sadly, in my community and among my friends, this was not.
As I grew up and went off to middle school, it was clear that I was a bit “out of the ordinary” among my peers. I laughed louder. I had dumber jokes. I didn’t focus on my outside. I never had a sister, nor was I close to my mom, so I didn’t know anything about make-up or fashion or any of that. All I knew was that I liked to laugh and to pretend. Even when I was alone, I would imagine myself as one of my characters that I’d created and have conversations with another character of mine. At that point, I hadn’t started writing yet but I got to know my “people” and their personalities this way. I delved deeper into my own made up world and crept farther away from the real one because the real world was full of people who didn’t understand me. I became numb for a time and only felt things – really felt things – when my world was compromised; and it often was.
“Why do you act like that?”
“Why do you read so much?”
“Why do you space out all the time?”
“Why bother drawing?”
“Dragons? Why don’t you do anything normal?”
“Elves? Why don’t you draw something that matters?”
“If you would do this and that and hang out with so-and-so, people might like you better.”
“Don’t talk anymore unless it’s about something that actually matters.”
I got that most of my school life. Every one of those questions or comments listed above, I was given and I received. I never fought back. I would just fall quiet and push away from the world again. How could I make people understand that what I filled my mind with was meant to keep me from becoming like them? I didn’t want to think about brand names and who the most popular kids were dating. I didn’t care about the next school dance or whatever drama was going on among the teachers.
I wanted to fly.
I wanted to hear the ringing of swords.
I wanted to sit out in the woods and feel a breeze that carried on it scents that we don’t have in our lives. The smelting of iron. Meat cooking on a spit.
Sure, I wanted to know people but not the way they expected. I wanted to really know them. I wanted to know what got them excited. What were their strangest thoughts? What did they wish for and desire in life? I knew all of this about myself before I started high school and it was only when I would come out and share these things with people that they would change the way they saw me. I wasn’t their normal peer. I had ideas and that was different. Different wasn’t good. There were only four people I met all through middle-school that didn’t shun me. Four – out of some hundreds – and that seemed like a very, very small number. But, they were God-sent. If not for them, I would never have made it through middle school and I believe that full-heartedly. With all the judgements and bullying I got as I grew up, I had a dark time in my life. Anxiety followed me like a shadow. Second-guessing myself was a sickness. Feeling like an alien was an every day problem. I often had moments where life didn’t seem worth it.
Then…something changed. I saw The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.
I remember sitting on my sofa. I was thirteen at the time, I believe. Eighth grade. I hadn’t read the books yet. Flipping through the channels, I stopped on a commercial with music that immediately gave me goosebumps. A great battle, elves, hooded men on horses and swords! The sounds of the the swords brought tears to my eyes. Quite literally. By the end of the commercial, I was almost heaving in sobs. Everything that my imagination and creative soul could ever want was in that movie.
After a night at the movies soon after, all of my dark moments were easier to overcome. I knew then that I wasn’t the only one with a wild imagination and suddenly, I wasn’t the only one in the world that loved fantasy. I could see that I was part of a greater team – a team of people who could see beyond the world that’s moving right there before us. There were people who would dress up. People who would put aside time to learn another language like Elvish or Klingon. I wasn’t the only person who made dumb jokes or laughed so loud that heads would turn.
The best part of all – I had a visual for the kind of life the characters in my mind were living. Lord of the Rings was the epitome of fantasy…and the actors didn’t seem like actors. They were so brilliant that the world came to life more than I had ever experienced in a movie. The scenery was breathtaking. Excitement, fear and sense of adventure came in through my eyes and ears and seemed to enter the bloodstream. The elves made my heart pump a bit harder and my spirit lighten. The Nazgul gave me a new respect for what people feared and a braver me was drawn out with Arwen’s flight to the ford.
I was in love with fantasy and I felt a hole sort of close up inside of me. Whenever I would be hit with an anxiety attack or feel the sting of “outcastedness”(new word alert), I would close my eyes and imagine Middle Earth. I would put myself in the shoes of one of the characters and everything would just seem better. I would fade away into my imagination and the stupid aspects of real, teenage life wouldn’t seem so bad.
Fourteen years later, I’m still the biggest fan I know. I still play the movies on loop in my house. My kids have been raised with it around and know that their mom is kind of a nut when it comes down to it. They’re encouraged to role-play. I have LOTR days when I make popcorn, buy candy and pop in the movie, then call them downstairs to watch with me. They ask honest questions about the movie that can be applied to real life. Racism. Love. Friendship. Good versus evil. They read and play with plastic swords and create their own creatures and characters. I let them go wild with their imaginations.
To be honest, I still have a problem with anxiety and still, fantasy is the best medicine for it. I’ve been writing for about thirteen years, bringing the characters and world from my adolescent mind to life. My heart is at its fullest when words are being put down. My mind is at its quietest and for that, I can’t thank Peter Jackson and everyone who brought Middle-Earth to life enough. These are people who put time and effort from their lives to put something magical together for people like me. It wasn’t until they did this that I realized I’m at my best when I’m creative and imaginative and for that, I’ll be forever thankful.
To those young people who are misunderstood or lost in their own sense of loneliness I say, find something that speaks to you. Find what lights up your world and makes your heart feel stronger. Don’t worry about the vast amount of people who look down on you, thinking your silly or weird. Their lives are missing a spark, I promise you.
Lord of the Rings was the spark that lit my world on fire so now, I rarely find myself in the dark.
To Peter Jackson…and to men, hobbits, elves and dwarves alike, I say thank you. Thank you for bringing Middle-Earth to us. There is a life out there that you’ve changed… one that you’ve saved.