“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
This is the first line in a series of books which was to become the second religion in my parents’ house. When John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote that line I doubt he ever imagined it would lead to the cult following which it became. I also very much doubt he ever thought it would be one of the most famous and beloved stories for several generations to come.
My father loved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. All four of us kids were raised with these stories though it didn’t quite have the following in the 80’s and 90’s that it has today. Peter Jackson took care of that. Long before it was an epic cinema series though, it as a 1970’s animated film complete with songs that you will never get out of your head. I still hear “Frodo of the nine fingers and the ring of doom” every time I think of the final scene with Gollum and Frodo in Mordor. I swear I watched the animated movies so many times. Incidentally it helped me take my trivia team to victory (thus leading to free candy from Mr. Middlebush, the science teacher) when I knew that Gandalf was the wizard from the series. The fact that no one else knew that as odd to me. I hadn’t yet realized in 8th grade that not everyone’s childhood consisted of good doses of Jesus and Middle Earth alike.
When my father heard they were making The Lord of the Rings series into a new live action movie (or rather 3 movies) I swear he was as happy as a kid on Christmas. It was released on his birthday: December 10th 2001. This was 6 months after my 9 year old sister had died unexpectedly and I think he needed something happy to cling to. Over the next 13 years we would all learn, through Dad, odd bits of trivia and the entire history of the LOTR world. Every time a new movie was announced we knew Dad would be at the midnight showing the day of release.
In 2004 he started working on a Gimli costume for the Return of the King movie premiere. He finished it once but then went back and revamped it in 2012 when the Hobbit was announced. The crowning glory, if you will, of the costume was the helmet. I mean seriously, look at it:
Those tiny triangle pieces at the back? All individually cut, painted and attached. The leather work on the side shield pieces and the helm? Hand-tooled, stamped and cut. The wood making up the basic form? Designed and cut by Dad. And this was a man who was diabetic and had neuropathy that caused him constant pain in his extremities. He hurt and he was exhausted.
But this made him happy.
He was an old shop teacher, an old engineer, who wanted to make his cosplay as accurate as possible. He used screenshots from the movie and matched his designs as best he could. He tooled leather gauntlets and greaves, a leather belt buckle and laced suspender straps. Mom helped by sewing all the cloth pieces and giving it more character than plain brown pants and a shirt. (Also by apparently getting high off contact cement when the house wasn’t properly vented. Yes Mom, I saw your comments on facebook.) When the revamp was finished (and they were both sober) I took pictures of the final product:
The midnight showing of The Hobbit 2012 at Celebration South had it’s very own Gimli. (Who is the son of Gloin, who is in The Hobbit. See? I remember these things!)
He was tickled pink when people wanted their picture with him. He WAS Gimli at that moment and wore it again to The Desolation of Smaug.
We had Hobbit Day celebrations at Mom and Dad’s house, eating too much food, playing games and watching these movies we all loved, but Dad most of all. It was awesome to see this one thing bring so much life back to him even if it was just moments at a time.
See, in between the movies, in between the rants about accuracy between book and movie, in between the speculation as to what amazing scenes would be included in the next movie, between all that he and my mother were grieving parents. I won’t go into detail here but they had lost a child. It was unexpected. And they needed distraction.
We all cope with awful happenings in different ways. Throwing yourself into your work or religion, bottling up emotions, shopping, becoming self-destructive. My father had always been the dreamer of the couple. Mom loves fantasy but her feet are firmly planted in the real world. I think Dad was slightly less so.
LOTR came at a time when my father needed something to hang onto. Something he knew would turn out well. Evil would be defeated and the world would be right once again. He threw himself into it and tugged us all along for the ride. I never minded.
We celebrated Hobbit Day on his birthday in 2014, 6 months after his death and 7 days before The Battle of the Five Armies was released in theatres. We made hobbity themed treats and watched the first two movies in the series, which Dad had bought as special extended editions of course. We went to see the third and final installment 7 days later. I cried knowing how he would have loved it, deconstructed it, and would have informed us of any outstanding inconsistencies in the interpretation of the novel. But for that brief moment of 2 hours and 44 minutes he was with us again.
I don’t think Tolkien ever imagined his novels would do what they did for my family.