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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Column: “There and back again”

I often reference Lord of the Rings to help me say things I might otherwise struggle to articulate. It sounds hokey, but since I committed to it, it’s surprising how well it works.

It’s a way of relating to people, I suppose, when we pick out little phrases from films. It’s what I aim for anyway, and, though I’m usually the one people edge away from at parties, sometimes it really works. I find the problem doesn’t usually lie in the sentiment behind whatever it is I’m trying to say – I’m genuine enough – but instead, in the person I’m relating to not having a clue what I’m talking about.

“Like Sméagol’s struggle with Gollum,” I’ll say when a friend confesses an internal debate they are struggling with. “This is like the scene where Sméagol wrestles with himself, trying to abolish Gollum.” “Yes,” they’ll say, “deciding whether or not to spend an extra year at school to double minor, when it’s going to cost so much and put me a whole year behind, is exactly like that scene…”

Or when I say, “The one ring was Sauron’s insurance,” to a friend dealing with Allstate after the loss of a grandparent. “It was his life-insurance policy. In case anything happened to him, he wanted to know he was ‘in good hands.’” Which, apparently, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to people, despite the last phrase being both appropriate and the Allstate motto.

To me, the parallels between my references and whatever is being discussed are obvious. When others are lost by what I say, however, I’m reminded that I, and I alone, am the sole occupant of the group that gets my references.

I blame it on not meeting enough Lord of the Rings fans. Though, really, it’s probably that the rest of them have a better sense of when to bring it up than I do and just keep to themselves at places where mentioning it isn’t appropriate. I might have been in the company of avid LOTR fans last time I sat through a safety training day at work, but I didn’t hear any of them commenting on just how much the discussion leader looked like Elrond.

In an obviously doomed attempt at relating to someone who lost their copy of the novel Push by Sapphire, I said, “the precious is looooost!” The few seconds I spent congratulating myself on being clever were interrupted when the person said, “What the hell does that even mean?” It was then that I realized they hadn’t seen any of The Lord of the Rings films, or the movie Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire.

Which, again, reminded me only of how lonely life can seem when you are the sole appreciator of your interests. By “interests” I mean, of course, making references to a fictional place as though it were real. References that I find are lost in casual conversation.

By now, it’s a motion of generosity when people adjust their blank faces after a split second and nod at me, suddenly and abruptly aware that I am the only one who knows what I’m talking about. I’m assuming they realize that ending the conversation will be easier if they pretend to understand the reference, thereby bypassing my lengthy explanation.

Which, to me, suggests that reality is the world most people live in. Though I’m not particularly enamored by it, it’s the one I too am stuck in, where the only things rings stand for are marriage and the Olympics.

Instead of resigning myself to conversations devoid of Tolkien references, I’ve started to use them more sparingly and only when they really say something.

My favorite goodbye, for instance, is when Bilbo says “I bid you all a very fond farewell.” I love the phrase and I use it whenever goodbyes are in order. I don’t often cite the source, though, because, I suppose, I’ve grown to realize that admitting where I got it can diminish its meaning.

So, I’ll leave it there and bid you all a very fond farewell with the best goodbye I know. Though, I admit, I could be biased.

EVAN WHITE loves nothing more than discussing Middle Earth and plans to go there. Contact him at emwhite@ucdavis.edu.


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