Hoard Of The Rings
February 19, 2010 in OCD and Me
I can clearly remember where I was when Barack Obama was elected President, and when the news broke about TWA Flight 800, just as I can remember watching frantic television coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center that came eight years apart. Events of that magnitude exert a certain hold on people; my grandmother still enjoys dusting off her recollections of being at Love Field on November 22, 1963, although she left before she could witness President Kennedy’s assassination.
When I think back on what I witnessed and felt on days such as that, my recollections feel oddly sterile. I know that I felt a great deal in the moment of that news, but when I call them to mind now there are no visceral emotions that bubble up. In contrast to my odd detachment from dates like September 11, 2001 and November 4, 2008, the specter of December 17, 2003 casts a far greater shadow over my life, and fills me with exuberance when I think of that day.
December 17, 2003 was not a day that witnessed any one event that left a great imprint on the world at large. There were no elections or invasions or attacks or assassinations of seminal figures. It was a Wednesday. It was a cold day up in Westchester County, where I was living. And it was the day that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released in theaters. I started counting down to the release about three months earlier, and bought my ticket to The Return of the King at the earliest possible opportunity.
It may seem curious to equate a film with pivotal moments in history, but The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King represents a pivotal moment in my history. The Return of the King was the third and final installment in the Lord of the Rings saga, and I had to be bribed to see the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring. I thought the premise was ridiculous and that it’d be three wasted hours at a movie theater. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, I was wrong. I saw the first movie twice in theaters, and then saw the second installment – The Two Towers – three times. Then I received a bootleg DVD of The Two Towers, one of those “for-your-consideration” copies that are given to people who vote for the Academy Awards. I watched it over and over and over, often with my friends.
And the countdown for The Return of the King began.
When the release of Return of the King finally arrived, I was at a fever pitch. Like any other Wednesday, I worked from 8:30 to 6:00 (I was then working as a daycare teacher, helping to potty-train and otherwise educate fifteen toddlers), and spent my lunch break sucking down a Starbucks latte. And then, at 7:00, I went with my fellow teacher to the Bedford Playhouse and sat enraptured for three and a half hours as The Return of the King delivered the Lord of the Rings’ grand apotheosis. That was the first of seven times I saw it in theaters. Doing the math (and not even taking into account the time I spent watching previews and credits), I spent a full day of my life on the repeated viewings.
What was it about that drove me to see The Return of the King over and over and over and over? Or to buy the special edition DVDs for the entire trilogy and watch those over and over and over and over? Part of it is due to the brilliance of the films. The Return of the King is tied for the most Academy Awards for any film, with a total of eleven. (It’s also the only film to have a “clean sweep” of that magnitude, wherein it wins all of its eleven nominations.) It grossed over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, and that’s not counting the huge sums grossed by the first two Lord of the Rings movies. The astounding success of the trilogy is undoubtedly one of the most influential milestones in recent cinematic history.
For me, it is not just what I perceive to be the genius in the film-making and acting, but it is because The Lord of the Rings was a blank canvas of sorts for me. I have fairly severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and I am in constant need of something to latch on to, something that I can watch repeatedly and analyze incessantly. I have no idea how many times I have seen The Return of the King, or the other two ‘Rings films. I do know that I can recite monologues, and even entire dialogues, from memory, and that if someone challenges me to a game of Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit—yes, such a board game exists—that I will invariably triumph. (Sample question: What does Gimli hurl at the White Wizard in Fangorn? Answer: His ax.)
The Lord of the Rings is not the first medium I’ve used for my obsessive-compulsive energy. For as long as I can remember, there have been things that occupied my time, at the expense of all other activities. As a child I would read the Manhattan phone book and my mother’s farcically large Webster’s dictionary instead of having regular play-dates with friends. When I was thirteen, I started frantically researching everything I could relating to the popularity and meaning of first names; fifteen years later, I am still trying to channel that truly obsessive drive into a manuscript. But the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and, in particular, The Return of the King, was an extraordinary moment for me because it came at a time when my obsession was a very public commodity. Nobody much cares (nor should they, perhaps) about a person’s fixation with the declining statistical occurrence of a given name, or her ardent desire to learn the etymology of rare words. My obsessions were secret things, things that I squirreled away in the fear that I’d be branded a freak by those who expected every young girl to limit her obsessions to pin-up teen actors.
The Lord of the Rings was different. I could go to the movie seven times and see it with a myriad of different people: my friend and fellow teacher, my parents, my little sister, my uncle, aunt, and cousins, and another group of friends up in Massachusetts. For a glorious moment in time, my need to breathe in the film to the point where I wanted to be in the saga’s fictional Middle-earth converged with broad interest in The Lord of the Rings.
I did not have to feel ashamed of my obsessive love for the film, even if I stayed ashamed of the quirk in my brain that caused such devotion to a seemingly trivial thing.
Three months later, The Lord of the Rings hype was over. Every movie, even the biggest movie, still has a limited shelf life in the public consciousness. And I found myself back in the familiar predicament of being consumed by thoughts about something about which very few people gave a passing thought anymore.
That three-month period, starting with the Return of the King release, had dovetailed nicely with a generally (and unusually) drama-free time in my life. It was a shining moment of sorts, one where I felt free to be myself because the object of my obsession was something that so many people were also partaking of.
It was brief, but exhilarating.
And then it was back to life as usual for one small, strange girl, as I smiled and nodded in conversations while my mind transported me back to Middle-earth, determined to indulge my illogical but all-consuming dedication to my secret world.