My Time In Middle-earth

Originally posted October 6, 2008

It’s funny, the things that stay with you from your youthful fascinations.

When I typed in today’s date – October 6 – at the top of the file I use to write the posts for this blog, I looked at it and nodded. “October 6,” I thought. “The date when Frodo was wounded under Weathertop.”

The reference is, of course, to an event in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Seeking to take the One Ring to perceived safety in Rivendell, Frodo and his companions – three other hobbits and Strider, the Ranger – are attacked by night in a small dell on the side of the hill called Weathertop. I don’t believe there is a mention of the specific date during the narrative at that point, but near the end of the massive adventure, the date is mentioned as an anniversary, and the date is also mentioned in a chronology in one of the many appendices that author J.R.R. Tolkien devised.

When I thought about Frodo and Weathertop, I pulled my battered and tobacco-contaminated copy of the trilogy from the shelf and spent a few moments verifying what I knew: October 6 was the date of that fictional event.

There was a time when I immersed myself deeply enough in Tolkien’s chronicle of Middle-earth that it felt at times like the history of a real world. I sometimes wished – like many, I assume – that it were real. I first read the trilogy when I was a freshman in high school. I’d read its predecessor, The Hobbit, a couple of years before that, but when I tried the trilogy, the shift to a more serious tone and more complex ideas put me off. But when I picked up the first volume of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, as a ninth-grader, it grabbed me. And for about six years, I guess, until the middle of my college years, one of the three volumes of the trilogy was always on my bedside table.

Oh, I wasn’t always reading it sequentially. I mostly browsed through it a bit at a time, either reviewing favorite scenes or poring over the appendices. I read plenty of other books – science fiction, history, and mainstream fiction – but I still took time to sift through Tolkien’s tales, probably not every day, but maybe once a week. Beyond that, I read the entire trilogy from the start once a year, generally in the autumn.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I don’t recall knowing anyone else in high school or in college who was fascinated as I was by Tolkien’s world and its inhabitants. But I’m sure they were around, members like me of the second generation to have discovered Middle-earth since the three volumes were first published in the 1950s. And, like those others, I assume, I urged my friends to read it. Some did, but most didn’t. I even managed to find an English copy of the trilogy during my year in Denmark to give as a birthday gift to the American girl I was seeing (oddly enough, I recall her birthday, which also happens to be during this week).

I could quote at length from the trilogy, and I frequently drew upon that ability to offer bits and pieces of advice or explanation or inspiration to friends and lovers. I’m sure that was, after a brief time, annoying. When I was planning my academic year in Denmark, I pored over the atlas, seeking place names from the trilogy; I ended up spending a day in the city of Bree, Belgium, a rather dull place, simply because it shared its name with a city in Tolkien’s world.

Sometime during the mid-1970s, the obsession ended, as such things generally do. The paperbacks stayed on the shelves. My love for the tales didn’t go away, but I no longer immersed myself in their world. When I joined a book club as an adult, I got a hardcover set of the trilogy to replace my tattered paperback copies. Now that I no longer smoke – I quit nine years ago, another anniversary that falls this week – I may get a new, clean set of the trilogy. And, as it’s been about fifteen years since I last read the trilogy, I’ll likely read it once.

Millions of others must have similar tales and memories, especially since the release of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films earlier in this decade. There are many websites devoted to the trilogy – both the books and the movies – with discussions and arguments and assessments of the value of the works and the meaning of their tiniest details. It may be a good thing that such sites and associations weren’t available thirty-five years ago, or I might never have come back from Middle-earth. Given the opportunity, I fear I might easily have become lost in my obsession, and as much as I love Tolkien’s world, I’m pretty glad to be a part of this one, too.

Given today’s anniversary of the attack under Weathertop, I thought I’d start a Walk Through the Junkyard with the piece “A Knife In The Dark” from Howard Shore’s soundtrack from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in the trilogy, which came out in 2001. After that, we’ll pull a random selection from the years 1950-2002.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard, Vol. 7
“A Knife in the Dark” by Howard Shore from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

“Poor Immigrant” by Judy Collins from Who Knows Where the Time Goes, 1968

“Pictures Of A City including 42nd at Treadmill” by King Crimson from In The Wake Of Poseidon, 1970

“Jock-O-Mo” by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Checker 787, 1954

“It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” by the Grateful Dead in Washington, D.C., June 10, 1973

“Havana Moon” by Geoff & Maria Muldaur from Sweet Potatoes, 1971

“Shootout on the Plantation” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell, 1970.

“Long Walk to D.C.” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action, 1968

“Busy Doin’ Nothing” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Restless Farewell” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“She Said Ride” by Tin Tin from Tin Tin, 1970

“See Him On The Street” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Borrowed Time” by  J. J. Cale from Closer To You, 1994

“Tried To Be True” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls, 1989

“I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith from Pull My Chain, 2001

A few notes:

Every other version of the Judy Collins recording, as far as I know, uses the full title: “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” It’s a Dylan song, of course, from John Wesley Harding, and I don’t think Collins quite gets to the center of the song, as she had [with the tunes] on the previous year’s Wildflowers. I get the sense that she was still a little too reverent toward her source.

The King Crimson track has some fascinating moments, but, as often happened in the genre called progressive rock, what seemed special many years ago now seems to go on a couple minutes too long. (On the other hand, as a writer, I know how easy it is to keep going and how difficult it can be to be concise.)

The Grateful Dead track comes from Postcards From The Hanging, a collection of the Dead’s concert performances of the songs of Bob Dylan issued in 2002. It’s a CD well worth finding for fans of both the Dead and Dylan.

Soul Folk In Action, the Staple Singers’ album from which “Long Walk To D.C.” comes, is an extraordinary piece of work. Backing the Staples are MGs Duck Dunn, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper and the Memphis Horns, with Cropper producing. The song “Long Walk To D.C.” is a moving piece of work, too, written by Homer Banks and E. Thomas (though once source says Marvelle Thomas), commenting generally on the struggle for civil rights and specifically on the March on Washington, which was part of the Poor People’s Campaign in the spring of 1968.

Tin Tin had a hit in 1971 with “Toast and Marmalade For Tea,” a frothy ditty that went to No. 20. Surprisingly, “She Said Ride” from the same self-titled album rocks some. The album was produced by the late Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.

Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” is one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard. Written by Bobby Braddock and performed perfectly by Keith, the song was one of the first I got to know when the Texas Gal began to introduce me to country. If you ever get a chance, catch the video. It’s a hoot! (The link above now goes to that video. Note added August 8, 2013.)

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2 Responses to “My Time In Middle-earth”

  1. Chart Digging: What’s At No. 106? « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] obsessives will recognize as the day that Frodo was attacked under Weathertop, as I noted in a post three years ago – so I thought I would convert that to one number – No. 106 – and see what […]

  2. Finding A New Realm To Explore « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] tried to fill that hole, as I wrote (in a post that is available at Echoes In The Wind Archives), with regular browsing in Tolkien’s work and […]

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