As per my usual Halloween routine of not dressing up and refusing to have fun, I spent this year's holiday in Pleasant Hill, doing laundry and helping to answer the door for trick-or-treaters. There was the usual assortment of ghosts, witches, and Spider-Men throughout the evening, but one boy stood out. He was an example of creative costuming, but mostly he was a reminder of what an incredible nerd I am.
My father Dennis answered the door and immediately identified the eight year-old, clad in a brown cloak and pointed hat, as "Gandalf". His mom said, "You're the first one who got that. Most people think he's Dumbledore, or just a wizard."
Dennis, a Tolkien dork from the old school, seemed surprised at the lack of respect accredited to Gandalf. He began explaining how the costume ruled out Dumbledore due to the hat, but then became a bit more critical.
"You know, Gandalf actually wore grey. Or white. This outfit is brown", Dennis said, still holding the bowl of candy, as young Gandalf held out his bowl expectantly. Hearing the magic word "Gandalf," my nerd-sense began tingling and I hurried to the front door.
What followed was an in-depth analysis from Dennis and Sean where we conferred, and decided that due to his brown clothing, the kid best resembled Radagast, the Middle-Earth wizard who befriended the birds and beasts. By this time, overcome with desire for candy and the nerdiciousness of the environment, the kid was nearly in tears. Dennis finally tossed a few fun-sized candy bars into the bag, and we continued a spirited conversation for the next few minutes, laughing about Saruman and Ted Sandyman. Only later did I begin to feel shame.
On Monday night, Tyler made reference to the Lord of the Rings, never a good idea, especially if I'm mildly intoxicated. Zembla has been home to Tolkien comedy in the past, so, really, people should know better. This discussion was sparked by a question as to whether the book was allegorical in a World War 2 sense (England = Gondor, hobbits=leprechauns or something, etc.). In the course of this discussion, Gene Wood and myself began debating whether the Mirkwood or the Lonely Mountain was further east, thus determining whether elves and dwarves were the easternmost creatures in Middle-Earth. Mr. Wood's incredible wrongness notwithstanding, my level of LOTR-based discussion was wholly unacceptable, yet I couldn't help myself.
It spiraled out of control. One moment I was talking somewhat calmly about the geography of the Misty Mountains, and the next moment I was spewing Middle-Earthiness uncontrollably. The low point came while I was speaking in a British accent about Beren and Luthien, and the Witch-King of Angmar, and I referred to Tolkien himself as "Jerrrr."
This time, the shame was there right away.
I am particularly vulnerable to works like the LOTR saga. I like nothing better then remembering elaborate, arbitrary histories and chronologies, and Tolkien provides an incredible amount of data for readers who are inclined to seek it out. It might be the same reason I follow basketball transactions, or can instantly rattle off starting lineups for early-'90s baseball teams I wasn't even a fan of. This sort of thing plays to my strengths; though I have very little sense for three-dimensional reasoning or music, I can pretty much remember anything I've ever read in a book. It also satisfies some mental need to have things organized, to know entire histories of events or places, even if they aren't real.
So, I'm resigned to my status as an enormous dork, at least in this area. Still, I wonder, am I an unusually enormous geek? After viewing "The Song Remains the Same, I am confident that Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant is much, much worse.
After all, I've never made a concert film interspersed with footage of me and my bandmates riding horses around in some bizarre Celtic Tolkien fantasyland. I've never written lyrics like:
So I'm packing my bags for the Misty Mountains
Where the spirits go now,
Over the hills where the spirits fly, ooh.
I really don't know.
Mine's a tale that can't be told, my freedom I hold dear.
How years ago in days of old, when magic filled the air.
T'was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her....yeah
So I'm not really so bad, right? Right? Right?