Lordly Love: How Our Obsession with The Lord of the Rings Made Us Friends
I remember the first crush that truly engulfed my senses and consumed my adolescent soul hit with a fury in eighth grade.
I remember distinctly because it first gathered steam in Mr. Smith’s Algebra class in the notes Sarah and I passed. You see, Sarah dubbed the graceful elf Legolas the most desirable character of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring while my affections laid firmly with Frodo. He was the hero, after all. [Though, after a few years’ perspective, I would come to regard Samwise as the true hero of the series.] Legolas was just a pretty boy, with hair more luscious than mine. The whole fate of Middle Earth rested on the shoulders of Frodo, a humble hobbit with hairy feet and a heart of gold.
Frodo was like Jesus, who I had always been taught to love. However, Frodo was like a Jesus it was okay to daydream about French kissing, a Jesus with blue eyes that were like deep pools of infinity. The Lord of the Rings was so epic that I had a whole canon of literature to reinforce this religion of loving him. Over the three years of the theatrical releases of Peter Jackson’s stunning adaptation of the trilogy, I spent my spare time pining over the Frodo in the pages of JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece and on the screen. While Sarah never was never converted from Legolas-loving, Frodo worship was a bond over which Amanda, Elizabeth and I built up a fledgling friendship. That’s the great thing about celebrity crushes — they can be shared without it resulting in any woman scorned.
In eighth grade, Amanda, Elizabeth and I all found ourselves in new territory. Amanda and I had moved from different quadrants of our three-stoplight town to find ourselves as new kids on the same block. Elizabeth had moved from a land of many stoplights to our settlement, that I used to joke was on the edge of civilization. Elizabeth’s mother became an ambassador of culture, establishing a youth theatre group. Soon our paths were intertwined. Not only were we acting together and in many of the same junior high school classes, but we all deemed Frodo more worthy of affection than Legolas, which differentiated us from our fellow geeks.
Amanda and I once spent an afternoon painstakingly typing letters to the quartet of hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, in case you needed reminding) in which we made hyperbolic claims like “seeing your face on screen is like someone shining a flashlight in the dark crevices of our souls.” All of the letters were four-paragraphs effervescently extolling actors’ fine performances and were perfect capsules of how The Lord of the Rings had completely rocked our world. We received signed headshots back from two of the four hobbits, and weren’t devastated by the two we did not receive because the first self-addressed stamped envelope (which we had wisely provided to expedite the responses) to return contained a headshot of Elijah Wood, our exalted Frodo.
At this point, our devotion to Lord of the Rings and Frodo reached fever pitch and Amanda, Elizabeth and I were in the throes of a youth production of Annie. Amanda and I had minor roles as servants in Daddy Warbucks’ household and Elizabeth’s part as Grace was not terribly demanding, so we spent a lot of time fantasizing about our collective crush.
Obsessing over Frodo merged into obsessing over Elijah Wood, and we became Elijah factotums. We knew that he was born in Cedar Rapids, smoked clove cigarettes, and was 5 foot 7. I fervently prayed that at 5 foot 3 I stop growing so that we would conveniently fit into the social construct that boys should be taller than girls (and I actually did stop growing. The power of intention or just the end of puberty?)
We rejoiced in the fact that Elijah had been a child actor and at the age of twenty already had a robust repertoire. So many of our weekends were spent searching through video stores for films he appeared in to tide us over until the next Lord of the Rings installment was released. We rewound his 15-second bit as an extra in Back to the Future II over and over. We watched Flipper so impressed by the devotion he could show to a dolphin. If he could demonstrate that level of commitment to a creature of a different species, imagine how capable he would be of loving a human woman. At one particularly dramatic point in the film, I clasped my hand to my heart and told my friends that every time he cried out “Flipper!” I was going to imagine he was calling out “Roni!” with that tender desperation.
Our Frodo/Elijah mania inspired action. During a slow time on the set of Annie, we penned a song that we aptly titled “Sad Obsession.” It was a pop song of the highest order filled with upbeat teenage longing and a unyielding hopefulness that one day Elijah Wood really would return our affections. The lyrics and melody came effortlessly, as though the song had been dormant in our souls since we had first seen Frodo/Elijah greet Gandalf in the Shire on the silver screen.
The chorus was simple with a nice little rhyme scheme: “Here’s my confession/He’s my sad obsession/This guy that I’ve never met/Why’s he playing so hard to get?” We eked out a melody and began singing the song around rehearsals.Inspired by the reception our song received from our younger castmates, we moved toward calling ourselves a band — and Oxydation was born.
Never mind that oxidation is the chemical process by which rust forms on metal. We were oxYdation, with a Y. Amanda, whose immaculate handwriting was lauded by every teacher we ever had (in college a professor even gave her extra credit on an exam for her fine lettering), designed a logo and we emblazoned the design on matching T-shirts using the advanced technology of the iron-on transfer.
We proudly donned our band costumes through the halls of our junior high, and developed a following, and not just from fellow drama nerds. It would be overstating it to say that we were the hit of the school, but kids in our Honors English class knew of our musical stylings, and a friend who had caught the fan fever with “Sad Obsession” hashed out the melody on the piano for us. (I neglected to mention that we had no musical accompaniment to our ballad of a celebrity crush. We found our novice skills on the violin, viola and flute didn’t lend themselves well to this sort of pop.)
The glory days of Oxydation peaked with our last performance of Annie. The set had been struck, and we were celebrating the months of hard work with pizza and cake when the cast asked, nay, demanded (this is how I remember it, okay) that we perform “Sad Obsession.” We yielded to their pleas. A whole troop of kids aged 6–16, faces thickly coated stage make-up, waited with bated breath as we got up on the stage where Annie had sung her last rendition of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” only hours before and wowed them with the most vibrant performance Oxydation ever gave. There was much cheering and dancing and merry-making, and we basked in our small measure of fame.
For it was all that Oxydation would ever have.
We attempted to write other songs. I remember one that referenced loathing the alarm clock, but nothing came as naturally as our woe-begotten love of an unattainable actor, and eventually even our most ardent devotees got sick of our obsession.
However, our candle for Frodo/Elijah still burned bright. The three-year span over which the Lord of the Rings trilogy was released was the golden age of our friendship. Sometimes we would measure the future by the release of later movies. We knew we would be almost 16 when The Return of the King hit theaters, and actually, the release date fell smack on Elizabeth’s birthday. Amanda and I coordinated an elaborate ruse to surprise Elizabeth with tickets to a midnight showing in a town twenty miles away, and then, less than twenty-four hours after the midnight showing, we caught an after school matinee of the final installment our friends.
And then it was over.
We still watched the Academy Awards that year, hoping the camera would linger on a shot of Elijah in a tux, and gloated as if we had been awarded statuettes when Return of the King garnered the Oscar for Best Film. But as a trio of friends, we began to drift apart.
I can’t blame the end of the trilogy entirely. High school came and we developed different interests. Elizabeth was the truly musical one, with a voice that could melt butter and break glass. She got tied up with all sorts of musical commitments with the elite choir and any group looking for a skilled vocalist. Amanda and I drifted towards passionately arguing about everything from whether the US has a moral obligation to mitigate international conflicts to NBA players’ right to wear do-rags and other squabbles that high school debate tournaments landed us in.
Today, we live in three different countries. However, I know if I were to call them up and begin to sing, “Here’s my confession…” both of them would join in without skipping a beat. We could then segue into trying to determine the exact shade of blue of Frodo/Elijah’s eyes.
Or maybe we would talk about the anxieties the dawning of our thirties has brought on from motherhood to careers to that ever-elusive “life balance.” Though, I suppose there’s always time for Lord of the Rings, too.