Hey man, how many times have I told you this? Why don’t you believe me?
For the last time, I’m not a fantasy guy. Nothing against it, but it’s just not my bag. I don’t roll the 12-sided die, never knocked around a comic-con, never LARP’ed or cos-played. I try to catch on, but I’ll never be more than a fandom-conflating dilettante, dropping needless knowledge, tossing out duh!-bombs, in a quixotic attempt to keep up.
Action, adventure, swords and sandals, wizards and warlocks, games and thrones? Fine! Props! But there’s only so much time I can spend there, only so many (hundred) pages I can flip through before I lose the urge to push on. Only so much of my brain sticks to such stuff. My geek-attuned velcro’s on the other side of the noggin.
But I get it, I really do. I came of age not that far away. Probably in the same strip mall. You know the one, the one that’s seen better days, on the frontage road off the old state highway. There’s the comic book shop, then the Chinese take-out. And next door? The record store. We cross paths in the parking lot, met up for some General Tso’s and compare our finds. You’ll tell me why your dog-eared stash is so fantastic and I’ll tell you about the seminal influence of some bass riff on some other band who actually had a hit. It’s kicks!
The conversation (the gathering, if you will) is magic. We can even head back to my place, pick up a twelve-pack of porch-pops and continue the exchange. That’s what marginally-employed Tuesdays are for. But I’m not going to read the whole book. Just not gonna happen.
But then I did. Because of book club.
It took me three months to journey through the whole Lord Of The Rings thing, from Shire to Mordor (and back again.)
And I can see why you dig it the way that you do. I can see how if you’re grasping for further faith, ancillary belief, how you could get hooked in there. The cracks are just big enough, the texts obscure enough to let your faith fill in the rest. The length, just right. Just short enough to digest once through, but offering endless pearls shining in the depths of continued study. The shrouded knowledge taunts you: Gnostic mysteries known only to those obsessed priests, the venerated trench-cloaked saints who’ve imbibed of the holy streams of the Silmarillion.
Like Holy Writ, it works on many levels: lovable hobbits for the kids, guided by a Shepherd, a resurrected comforter who gathers innocents together, a protector back from the grave. Talking trees and magic rings, shiny things and songs to sing.
But the death is real enough, the peril, the responsibilities, the weakness of the flesh at the mercy of Gracious Fate. Yes, there’s something here for the grownups too. Something you might miss the first time through. Something deep enough to make you think there might be more, that Tolkien has only cracked open the door, that he’s onto something. Psha! CS Lewis and your prolonged parables!! Here’s an alternate history of the species, a source of solace for those who wish for something more, an older and better lore. Something to predate Torah and Sutra, an ennobling and grander past to which we can rebuild, conquer. Return as Kings.
I’m not a fantasy guy, but I get it. I really do.