Confession Time: I Was a Teenage Tolkien-Head, Guys

Field Notes From The War On Cool

Artwork by Ted Nasmith

I’ve often wondered what I could have accomplished in life by now had I spent half as much time and energy on literally any useful branch of knowledge during my teenage years as I did on Middle Earth lore and Tolkienology (spell-check, don’t you dare tell me that is not a word … dirty rotten Philistine).

Believe me, this went far beyond sitting through all three movies and being able to correctly identify Sauron and Saruman without getting their names mixed up (a feat my dad still has not accomplished in spite of watching the entire movie trilogy probably a couple times every year since they came out).

No: I was the fifteen-year-old who could tell you the difference between Quenya and Sindarin Elvish, and when to use which.

I would routinely get lost within a mile of my house, but I could draw a map of the lands of Mordor entirely from memory.

I don’t think I could have gotten very far naming the American Presidents in chronological order, but I could name all the Kings of Gondor back to their migration from the Island of Numenor when it sank into the ocean in the year 3319 of the Second Age (full disclosure: I had to look up that date just now — but I wouldn’t have when I was fifteen!).

I had an opinion on the ethics of Aragorn’s death (if you choose to die before you start “diminishing” and then your wife, who used to be freaking IMMORTAL dies a year later of a broken heart, isn’t that kind of like negligent homicide — er, elf-icide?).

Between the years of 2002 and 2003 I almost burned Peter Jackson in effigy — twice.

I knew what the heck a Silmaril was.

And I talked about it. Oh yes, I talked about it. All. The. Time.

I was so insufferable, you guys. You wouldn’t even believe.

My enthusiastic embrace of the esoteric, the obscure, the uncool, goes as far back as my self-awareness, and has been both blessing and curse. I never had a chance at being cool— everything was against me from the start. Sixth born in a family of ten, I was homeschooled, didn’t grow up with a TV, and played classical piano. In my house, if you were bored, you could read a book, or better yet, clean the bathroom.

Some kids would have rebelled against their circumstances, but I did something much, much better. I rebelled against coolness itself. Waging my personal war against coolness with that untempered passion so unique to the teenage years, I embraced my dorkiness in all its glory, blasting Rachmaninov with the windows open as I drove our family’s fifteen-passenger van down the highway to and from weekly piano lessons — if I couldn’t be a Metal Head, I would be a Metal Egg-Head. You get the idea … maybe?

Anyway, as you might guess, Tolkienology went hand-in-glove with my anti-cool lifestyle: it allowed me to mine vast amounts of utterly useless knowledge that almost no one else would know. This is not to say that my interest in Tolkienology was sheer, insufferable egg-headedness — I really did like it — but the appeal of being a martyr of geekiness was almost irresistible. I reveled in not being understood. I basked in the blank stares of that pitiful segment of society who couldn’t tell a Nazgul from a Balrog.

Of course, I eventually grew up a little bit and realized that perhaps the world was not quite as against me as it had previously appeared. I also discovered that almost nobody actually thinks they are cool. What is cool, O jesting Pilate? Are we all cool? Or are none of us? Does it matter? Once I received this revelation, the appeal of Tolkienology waned. I still enjoy Tolkien but it’s no longer an obsession. Incidentally my husband is a recovering Teenage Tolkien-head too (we both went through our Tolkien phase before we met each other), so we giggle over stupid, Middle Earth inside jokes in the privacy of our own home and reminisce over what insufferable little turds we used to be.

Next time you see someone that reminds you of the fifteen-year-old me, be patient: they’re probably just waging an inner war against coolness. And besides, look how well-adjusted I turned out!

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