OTHER FATHER

★ ★ ★ ★

RETURNING HOME TO THE SHIRE

By James Prenatt

It doesn’t take long to realize I’m kind of a nerd. And by kind of, I mean a lot. One of my favorite things is Lord of the Rings. My father would tell us the story of The Hobbit as we watched an animated version and at every opportunity we watched the LOTR trilogy on DVD and he’d explain the lore to us. The first film came out when I was ten, making it a huge part of my childhood. Hearing the soundtrack and even something simple as seeing a still shot from the movie or poster takes me back to that place in time that I’ll never truly be able to go back to, but can at least revisit.

A recent series of video essays I watched on The Hobbit films got me thinking about the difference between these two trilogies. I won’t go into why the first trilogy was better. I won’t even talk about the movies much because I could probably write a book on that and it would have nothing to do with the themes of this column. Instead, this is a reflection upon what the franchise and the world and lore of Tolkien mean to me personally.

I remember the excitement my dad was filled with when he found out about the first movie. We couldn’t all go to see it, but I can clearly recall thumbing through a visual dictionary guide that promoted the movie and my dad taking a look through this world come to life, excitedly describing the characters, creatures, and weapons. He even made us wooden swords, burning their names and runes from the book onto them.

Flash forward to 2013, ten years after The Return of the King premiered in theaters. I had moved out of the house and was adjusting to life at a four-year college and life away from home. My father’s Alzheimer’s had him in a steady mental decline and while he knew who I was, he was but a shell of his former self who remained cheerful despite it all, or at least he kept up that façade when I came home.

Each time I visited home (and luckily this was frequent, I only moved an hour away) something was different. Reflecting on it now, I am reminded of the ending of the King, where the hobbits return home to The Shire and many of their favorite trees had been torn down and the once idyllic and peaceful land didn’t look much different than the rest of the world. Much of the woods had been torn down because we had to sell lumber in order to make extra money. A dogwood tree that grew beside our driveway that we had called “Jimmy’s Tree” had been smashed down by accident by one of the lumber trucks seemed an almost too obvious symbol of my innocence.

So by the time The Hobbit came out I had forgotten about why these stories meant so much to me. I had taken to more cynical, contemporary novels and films. I could still use my imagination to escape, but it wasn’t the same kind of escape. The Hobbit films are generally regarded as a disappointment and they certainly were, but now I think that by then, even if it was a superb film it wouldn’t be enough. Not just because I had grown up, but because my father who introduced me to the story wouldn’t have been able to watch it with me.

Recently I took my stepson and newly born daughter down to the farm for the Fourth of July. Deep in summer it was lush and hot. We took my daughter swimming, we cooked out, talked, and enjoyed each other’s company (for the most part, of course there was some arguing and heated debates about Marvel movies and the new Star Wars). Things seemed mostly likely they used to be. I was back in The Shire.

But they will never be exactly as they once were. And that’s okay. It might be a good thing, actually, because even though I’ve lost a few things, I’ve gained much more. I have a family of my own and they’re very lucky to have grandparents that are still living, loving parents with steady jobs and a stable relationship, and much more. As I left, I realized that so much of my life, even in youth, was spent looking back, trying to catch up with other kids, thinking about what I didn’t have instead of what I did. Now I can finally say that for the most part, I am only looking forward and more importantly, right in front of my face are the things that matter the most.

Now when I try to calm my daughter I hum one of Tolkien’s songs, “The Road Goes Ever On.” Indeed, it does. And I must follow.

James Prenatt lives in Baltimore, MD with his beloved wife and stepson, who tells lovely stories about bunnies and crabs. He writes fiction and poetry along with contributing to blogs such as Everything for Dads and Parent.co. He likes punk rock, good movies, and bad coffee.

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