Every self-proclaimed nerd’s story about how they found their gateway into genre and fandom is a unique and vital part of their journey. Who introduced them to certain comics, shows, or films? Did they share fandom experiences with someone special before they really knew what fandom meant? For me, this person was (and continues to be) my Dad. I’ve introduced him to many genre things and he’s returned the favor. And his greatest fandom contribution to my life is undoubtedly The Lord of the Rings. Our bond over an epic world with elves, dwarves, and powerful rings came during a fraught time, healing our relationship with ourselves and each other.
After my parents’ divorce when I was in elementary school, the rare time I would spend with Dad was precious. Unlike almost all the other adults around me (except my rad maternal grandma who loves Star Trek and wrestling), Dad would watch Saturday morning cartoons with me. He took a genuine interest in my latest Goosebumps recap and my very real desire to be Storm when I grew up. (Sadly, I have yet to gain my powers.) But, things changed as I got older. I began to see some elements of my life—and my parents’ relationship—with more clarity. And, I was also in the midst of the infamous middle school emotional wilderness.
I was deeply insecure and unsure of myself, stuck in a sea of my peer’s faces. I fit in from an external viewpoint as a cheerleader and high achiever. But I felt internally abandoned and insecure because my life didn’t mirror my wealthier cheerleading friends. I can retrospectively see that these complex feelings mirrored my life at the time. Older sister freshly gone off to college. Busy mom working long hours. And a dad who was figuring out things in his life while also driving trucks long-distance. Two lonely souls, indeed. I was a true latchkey kid frequently left to my own devices, my anger stewing over the growing space between myself and everyone around me.
As an adult, I understand that he was imperfect and struggling with inner turmoil… not necessarily blanket excuses for the times he let me down, but rather contributing factors. To ease my anxiety and sadness, I dove into horror, mystery, witchy things, and fantasy for solace. I was a voracious reader but I had my narrow interests in what books I’d consume. Movies, however, were a free for all for me and my dad knew it. On one perfect day when I wasn’t sulking, we experienced The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring together. I was familiar with the books but they didn’t have a chokehold on me like Harry Potter.
He said we should go on this adventure together. At the time, I thought it was his guilt trying to smooth over a long period of absence. But now I know there was a deeper purpose. He knew we both needed that fantastic adventure wrapped up in a story filled with characters that would warm the coldest hearts. The Fellowship of the Ring broke right through my frustration, closing the distance between myself and my dad, even if just for under 2+ hours.
It didn’t change everything in one single day. But it was the catalyst that began to heal our relationship. We’d use the films to break the ice before having larger conversations about the world changing around us. Conversations about friendship, loyalty, betrayal, grief, and healing were frequently parsed through The Lord of the Rings. Be wise and heroic in your own way like Frodo. Pursue your passions with the devotion of Samwise and be the staunchly supportive friend that he is to those you love. And maybe don’t let pride drive you like Boromir. The Lord of the Rings played a role in helping me feel comfortable with my differences as I grew into a decidedly unique person.
We were all in with this epic adventure. Dad took in a scraggly yet adorable mutt of a dog and named it Sméagol after his favorite character. I eventually gave him the film trilogy to enjoy on DVD. And as I went fully into teenagehood, our bond over this wonderful franchise made me feel confident about my interests and desire to creatively write. We don’t talk about The Lord of the Rings as we do with faith, rap music, mortality, and family, but those Middle-earth adventures hold a special place in my heart.
And, with The Rings of Power on the horizon, I cannot wait for that spark to rise again. Because underneath it all, I am still that little girl who wants to share a fantasy world with my dad. I cannot say this franchise is the only element that changed the course of our relationship. But, without its existence, that journey wouldn’t have the same level of joy and wonder.