The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

This post is the first in the theme of A Long Waltz Through Nerddom.

July 20, New York: In retrospect, I didn’t have much choice but to become a nerd. As a child, I only fraternized with adults and my only friends were books. I thought much of my own intelligence and spent hours lost in imaginary worlds. It was just a matter of time before I donned the full cloak of nerddom, and when I did, I did so with gusto.

The first I heard of role-playing games was in a Hardy Boys book, perhaps predictably. In each installment Chet had a new hobby, and in this one it was playing some fictional role-playing game with dragons and, er, caves. Intrigued, I convinced some friends to construct a game with me. As pre-teen boys, this game was a Risk derivative that primarily involved destroying one another’s imaginary countries with weapons of increasing complexity. In the end, we’d blown up the planet with nukes mounted on drills and were all arguing about whether any of us had launched a space base from the earth in time. It was a fun afternoon, but a terrible game mechanic. Then I discovered Dungeons & Dragons, and lo! some wise old nerds had already made us a perfect game!

That’s just where it begins, but as a full-bore nerd I’ve:
- Played hours of Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, and even goth-themed role-playing games
- Read dozens (hundreds?) of pulp fantasy novels
- Watched a ton of anime
- Owned whole collections of comic books and multi-sided die
- Fancied myself a computer hacker
- Rollerbladed

So we launch a new theme of the Thirty-Three Project: A Long Waltz Through Nerddom. In this theme, we will explore the lofty heights of nerd material. (Or, imagine yourself exploring a dungeon, and I will be your Dungeon Master, leading you to treasure chests of film and prose.) We begin with the true pinnacle of fantasy fiction.

The Lord of the Rings is an absolutely singular work. I read it young, shortly after The Hobbit. My first experience of The Hobbit was a cartoon or an illustrated version that colored my mental images of the actual book as very cartoonish. Reading along the natural progression into The Fellowship of the Ring, I suddenly found myself in a very, very different world. From the moment the first black riders appear on the road outside of Hobbiton, the cartoon images are gone. Here was a world of darkness and near infinite complexity (hell, it ended with appendices!) rendered in exquisite detail and lovely prose. It blew me away. I tore through these books and then immediately tried (and failed) to read The Silmarillion.

Re-reading these books was a complete treat. Exactly the sort of privilege the Thirty-Three Project is meant to offer. When else in my life would I re-consume 1000 pages of Tolkien? I suspect I appreciated the detail quite a lot more in this reading— how impressive is it that Tolkien created *languages*! Though the one thing that was very different in this reading was that I couldn’t help but imagine the characters as the actors from the movie. They are indelibly tied together in my mind’s eye now. How did I imagine them before when I read as a child? That’s the one thing I wish I could recapture.

You should own this book, presented as a trilogy, but argued by Tolkien to be a single book. Buy it from the Amazon.

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