[This is an excerpt from my book, Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth, and the sequel to yesterday’s article, In the Depths of Moria. My purpose in sharing it now, is to illustrate the power of our own personal, negative stories. Mine was pretty fuckin’ negative in my 20s, and that negativity has returned more than a couple of times since, until I began to rewrite the story of my life, which we will get to, I promise. For now, we return to my personal Mordor]
My Personal Mordor
Much as Frodo and Bilbo’s stories, my story has a beginning: a happy childhood and peace at home, not unlike the Hobbits in their idyllic Shire.
Then, in the middle, like the fateful night when Gandalf tossed the Ring into Frodo’s fireplace—sweeping him off on his dark adventure—the fabric of my life came apart in a flash: crisis, disillusionment, despair, and struggle. And the end? Well, I’m not dead yet, so the end is still in question, or at least the means to the end is. But the end for our purposes is the very words you’re reading right now: this book.
The story of how Be a Hobbit came to be written is very much my story, and it probably began the day I was born, though I’ll try not to bore you with pages of my childhood, tip-toeing in the tulips of my metaphorical Shire. Don’t worry, I won’t depress you with every detail of my life; this isn’t my autobiography but I will share a few of my experiences when they serve as an example.
Like the Hobbits in The Shire, I had a happy childhood, a Shire-like childhood, if you will. My mom and dad, who were model parents—however you want to measure that—were Salvation Army officers, which means preachers, or ministers. Contrary to what many think, the Salvation Army is not just a social, charitable organization that rings bells at Christmas. They do that, of course, and I did it many, many times in my youth and early adulthood, but it is at heart a church.
So my brothers and I grew up in an atmosphere of religion and charity work. We rebelled against both at times, as children and teenagers do. I tell people all the time that there are two kinds of preacher’s kids: ones that become preachers themselves, and my kind. At one point in my life, early adulthood, I rejected almost everything my parents had ever taught me.
My rejection of religion, and many of society’s conventions, came as the result of books that challenged much that I thought I knew about the world. Unfortunately for my parents, I was born with a questioning mind. I tell people all the time that there’s nothing more dangerous on Earth than a good question. Once a question lodges itself in the brain, there’s really no getting it out until you find a suitable answer for it. And very strong questions require very strong answers, backed up with stronger evidence.
I won’t go too much into why I rejected my upbringing, but a process that began with reading and questioning was then reinforced by the struggles of being a young father in my early tweens (twenties), money (the lack thereof), and divorce. I chose to drown most of that pain and stress in copious amounts of alcohol, which of course did nothing to solve the problems.
What I did manage to do during that period, however, was to read insatiably. I read a butt-load of Stephen King’s books, The Stand, being my favorite. I was in a very nihilistic mindset at the time, and King’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world, nearly devoid of people was attractive to me.
In my mind at the time, the problem with the world was that it was filled with too many stupid and ignorant people and if they all disappeared one day it would be fine with me. I was in a very negative mental state, and the more I read, the darker the World appeared to me.
I read everything I could get my hands on, especially non-fiction; history, religion, philosophy, new-agey, old agey, you name it, I read it. What I really wanted to know was, “If Christianity isn’t the answer, if there is no God, then why are we here?” This led to an endless stream of further questions, but at the heart of all of them was “What possible purpose does our seemingly ruined species serve on this rock in space?”
So I read. And read. While I am neither a card-carrying atheist, nor a preacher, religion is important to my story and the story of how this book came to be. My rejection of any and all belief was part of my spiral downward much as Frodo was dragged down by the power of the Ring. I was carrying my own Ring at the time: a ring of despair, fear, ignorance, want, and rage, which pulled me ever downward.
A Light in Dark Places
I was drowning in negative emotions, groping through a metaphorical dark tunnel in the side of a mountain, trying to get through to the other side—which in my twisted mind was probably just as bad or worse than the tunnel itself. As far as I was concerned the other side was just more darkness. I didn’t know it then, but I was Frodo, lost in Cirith Ungol headed for certain death in the webs of Shelob’s Lair. I could not see a path through my negativity, it enveloped me like the darkness that surrounded Frodo.In a very real sense, I had been spun into a spider’s web, awaiting the hunger of the beast of my own making.
Then one day, someone suggested a book that I had heard of before. Everyone had heard of it, I suppose. I’m not sure who it was that turned me on to The Hobbit first, possibly it was my brother, Tim, who was living with me at the time in that roach-infested apartment in New Bern, NC. I don’t remember, which is strange, because normally my mind is a steel trap, but I reckon drinking a minimum of twelve Olympia beers per day, and God only knows how much liquor on the weekends, might just blur the memory a bit.
I wouldn’t recommend it as a cure for depression. But I survived. Because like Frodo, a faithful companion came to rescue me with the Light of Eärendil, Tolkien’s wonderful books, and I could see again. Yes, I was still in a tunnel but I was not alone. I had a Samwise and I had hope, if only the smallest glimmer.
So I picked up The Hobbit. And I began to read. I was swept off to a green, green Shire in a far, far land, and my soul has never returned. I suppose it never will. Yes, my soul at the time wandered more in the smoking wastelands of Mordor or the Dead Marshes than Hobbiton, but wandering in Middle Earth, was superior to my own world in every way.
After ripping through The Hobbit, I read The Lord of the Rings, and the darkness of that story enveloped me in a way that is impossible to explain. I was THERE, in a very real sense. The fear was palpable in the presence of the black-cloaked Ringwraiths, and I could taste the sulfurous fumes of Mt. Doom. I could smell the sweat of horses and hot leather and hear the clash of battle as I rode with the Rohan on the fields of the Pelennor. I bled and died with the sun-king, Theoden. I rose again with Eowyn’s defiance of the Witch King. I soared with the Eagles as they swept the broken and bloody body of Frodo and his companion Samwise the Brave from the smoking crags of the fiery mountain. There has never been such a story, and I don’t think there ever shall be again.