It’s December 2001. My family and I are living in yet another rental house in Northern Michigan. This time on Mullet Lake in Cheboygan, to be precise.
We lived in a structure that my friends and I affectionately nicknamed the “mushroom house”—and if you were wondering, yes, we three 31-year-olds still refer to it as such. It’s one of those 1970s/80s builds with a roof that went down to the ground, lots of brown throughout, very dated—nothing like the coveted and fantasy-like mushroom houses in Charlevoix. We were living there during the off-season—October through May. We Daileys moved around quite a bit in our early days above the 45th, but it was here, in the mushroom house, that my eleven-year-old self first learned of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
Well, it wasn’t the very first time I’d heard of Tolkien, but by this point in my life, I was old enough to comprehend his stories and not get creeped out by the animated versions of Gollum from Rankin & Bass’ musical tellings of the Middle-earth adventures. Full disclosure, I thought Gollum was under my bed after watching The Hobbit (1977), but I’ll digress for now and return to that pertinent topic in a later, semi-related blog post.
Twenty years ago, my two best friends told me about a movie that was coming out called The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring—after that, my life was never the same. During the film’s run in NoMI, we went and saw the three-hour film three times (and obviously also went and saw the two subsequent films three times each as well) at the Kingston Theatre in downtown Cheboygan. What ensued was a love for the story, characters, immaculate cast, New Zealand, and the Elvish language.
I got the book trilogy and tore through it (even the long-winded chapter revolving around the council of Elrond—phew), bought action figures (still have them), and naturally dressed up as Galadriel for the following Halloween, pointy ears and all. And, like my About page mentions, I even took a writerly stab at continuing the story where the first book ends. Admittedly, my piece was short and underdeveloped (remember, I was 11 and not at my writing prime). But somehow, I knew to bring Gandalf back in my version despite not having cracked open The Two Towers yet. So whether it was Tolkien’s foreshadowing that tipped off my subconscious or my gut telling me the broken fellowship still needed their wizard, I listened. All that to say, Tolkien was a force to be reckoned with during my childhood, and I admire him immensely. Also, my intuition is pretty accurate. Just saying.
And this year, 2021, marks the, check it, 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of The Fellowship of the Ring. This film immortalized and endeared the cast and crew to the young hearts of my friends and me. We developed crushes on Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, learned about big-atures (large miniatures used to film sweeping shots of kingdom’s capitals and strongholds, like Minas Tirith and Helm’s Deep), and attempted to sing like the Irish white witch that is Enya (Did you know she lives in a castle with her pets? Color me jealous.). We failed in the singing attempts but never gave up—no doubt our parents were thrilled.
Stories, whether on the page or screen, hold a lot of power. Tolkien’s writings and director Peter Jackson’s vision inspired us girls to run around in the woods for hours on end, climbing trees and wading through rivers. We memorized movie dialogue and prose passages. And we would stay up till all hours watching the movies back-to-back or viewing endless special features on the coveted DVD extended editions. (We all remember Sean Bean’s fear of helicopters and how he climbed, in full Boromir costume, up a mountain to reach a specific filming location so that he didn’t have to ride in the chopper. #iykyk)
Whenever I watch any of the three cinematic masterpieces, I’m amazed by their timeless quality. The practical effects, CGI, and exquisitely crafted props, sets, and wardrobe haven’t aged a day—much like the forever-young Bilbo (RIP Sir Ian Holm) who greets Gandalf early on in the first film.
While perfect in my mind, the feature-length adaptations don’t follow Tolkien’s writings to a “t.” Still, all alterations and tweakings were done with the utmost care and consideration to the source material, which, as stated above, I devoured. My paperback movie editions of the books have creased and cracked spines, and even as a vigilant protector of books, I wouldn’t have it any other way. To quote local author Johnathan Rand, “it means a book has been well-loved and used.” And that these have.
This time of year, people like to debate whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and seeing as how the whole drama unfurls during a Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza, I’ll give it a pass. The other reason I’m okay with sliding that one in between National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and It’s A Wonderful Life is that I consider all three Lord of the Rings films to be Christmas movies. Respectively, their theatrical releases occurred on Dec. 19, 18 & 17, between 2001-2003. Some of my fondest holiday memories revolve around going to see these films with friends and family before and after Christmas Day.
Not much has changed in the past two decades—I can still quote 97% of the films, get teary-eyed when Boromir dies, and become mesmerized by the breathtaking New Zealand landscape. The one thing that has changed with my acquired and older sensibilities is that my crush has transferred from Legolas to Aragorn. I mean, no offense to the elf prince, but straight up, who isn’t crushing on the seasoned ranger and reluctant king? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
It’s December 2021. I don’t live in the mushroom house anymore, but you can bet my non-pointy ears perk up every time they catch a note of Howard Shore’s symphonic opus, and when I do, my schedule magically fills up for about the next three hours—it’s the darndest thing. So, cheers to my fellow nerds and Lord of the Rings lovers. And happy 20th anniversary to the film that got me hooked on Tolkien and fantasy forever.
Coming up next:
Novelizations—they’re still a thing
A query set by an artist friend