Your Own Personal Gollum

Is there somebody in your life who drives you insane? Who sucks the air out of a room when they enter it? A psychic-vampire who brings a black murky cloud into your world?

That’s your Own Personal Gollum (OPG).

Gollum wasn’t always such a heinous wretch. Once upon a time he was a happy-go-lucky Hobbity sort of person who had at least one friend (whom he ended up murdering on a riverbank, sadly) and who loved playing riddle games. Gollum even fondly remembers having a grandmother! Someone like that couldn’t be completely evil, right?

But poor Gollum was corrupted by the Ring, and this constant craving hollowed out his soul. He’s a husk of the Hobbit he used to be. He’s like a meth addict craving another hit, and he will do anything to satisfy that terrible emptiness.

Gollum makes Sam’s and Frodo’s life a living hell. He’s manipulative, hateful and bad company on a very long road trip. (Can you imagine driving across America with Gollum in the backseat? You’d want to toss him into a cornfield somewhere around the middle of Kansas.)

Gollum is so awful he pushes even the kindhearted mild-mannered Sam to violence. And Frodo, who recognizes a kindred spirit tainted by the Ring of Doom, is both repulsed and drawn to Gollum as he tries in vain to redeem him, calling him by his old Hobbit name of Sméagol.

Your Own Personal Gollum might not be as horrible as Tolkien’s Gollum. Your OPG could be an annoying classmate, or someone you work with who’s constantly grating on your nerves, or even a relative who makes you cringe every time you see them. (Many people have told me their OPG is their mother-in-law!) You probably won’t have to make a trek with this person to the fires of Mount Doom, but sometimes it might feel that way. Because people who are obsessed with their own problems, like most OPGs seem to be, want everyone else to feel their pain.

So how do we deal with somebody who makes us this miserable? We can’t tie an Elven rope around their necks, give them a good yank and call them “stinker” like Sam does. That just lowers ourselves to their level (and it’s also illegal in most states). Frodo’s sympathy and kindness is admirable, but in the end Gollum ends up biting off his finger. Do you want your OPG to bite off your finger? Even metaphorically? Because I sure don’t.

A year before The Lord of the Rings begins (according to Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales) Aragorn captured Gollum and led him nine hundred miles to the Elven-king’s home in Mirkwood. The journey lasted fifty days, making Aragorn the unofficial winner of the “I spent the most time with nasty old Gollum” award. I can just imagine how the stoical Ranger would have dealt with his OPG: He would have tuned out the vile Gollum’s whining—utterly ignoring him—and strode onward with a fixed look of determination in his steely eyes until he’d reached his destination and delivered Gollum to the Elves. Then he would have turned around and walked away without giving Gollum a second glance.

It’s Gandalf’s advice to Frodo that’s most meaningful when dealing with your OPG, however. Months before Frodo sets out on the quest to destroy the Ring, Gandalf tells the Hobbit that the only way of dealing with Gollum is to pity him. It’s Frodo’s pity that keeps him from killing Gollum when he has the chance, and this mercy is what ultimately saves Frodo from his own failure to destroy the Ring. He learns about compassion the hard way.

In the end we really don’t have any way of controlling the relationship with our OPG. We can control, however, the way we react to them: With pity and self-control. And if those tactics don’t work, sometimes we simply need to give up and go our separate ways.

The Wisdom of the Shire Tells Us…“Have pity on the self-centered Gollum in your life, for they are sad creatures; but do not allow them to pull you onto their dark path.”

Rush and Rivendell

Back in the day (and I’m talking about the early eighties) Rush fans like me used to get a lot of crap from rockers about Rush’s song “Rivendell” which was considered to be a very lame tune by people who listened to bands like AC/DC or Ted “Cat Scratch” Nugent. Every Tolkien fan I knew, however, loved “Rivendell.” The boys–Geddy, Neil and Alex–weren’t afraid to let their Middle-earth freak flag fly, and we loved them for it. The song was on the album Fly By Night (1975), which also featured the classic fantasy rock song “By-Tor & the Snow Dog” which my friends and I still belt out in our bad Geddy Lee voices when we’ve had a few pints. It’s been over 35 years since that album came out, and Rush is still going strong. My three childhood buddies, all of whom were Tolkien enthusiasts, are going to see Rush live with me in Seattle this November. And Rush’s new album is an awesome blend of speculative fiction storytelling, genius arrangements, and kick ass musicianship. Rush is an inspiration. They’re doing some of their best work as they’re heading into their sixties. Maybe they’re like long-lived Hobbits and they’ll still be around when they’re in their hundreds, just like Bilbo (who left Rivendell for the last time when he was 131 years old).

We feel the coming of a new day

Darkness gives way to light a new way

Stop here for a while until the world

The world calls you away

Yet you know I’ve had the feeling

Standing with my senses reeling

This is the place to grow old ’til

I reach my final day

–From “Rivendell”


Amory Lovins on Tolkien

“J.R.R. Tolkien was just a delightful old gentleman, interested in a lot of things, with a lively curiosity and a deep knowledge of philology; a love of words and language and a masterly storyteller. He had a well-ripened personality, like a wrinkly old apple full of flavor. And he had the Hobbit virtues of steadiness, modesty, and a quiet demeanor. He seemed, in a way, quite ordinary, but also, just like a Hobbit, determined and capable of extraordinary things.”

–From a phone interview I did on 1/24/2012 with author and recovering physicist Amory Lovins, who was a young don at Merton College, Oxford when Professor Tolkien had retired but occasionally dined in the Senior Common Room.

Gimli the Tractor

Gimli is the name of my uncle’s tractor. He brought Gimli over to our place to help dig out blackberry roots where we’re putting in our vineyard. My uncle is a huge fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ringsand one of the people who encouraged my Tolkien obsession when I was a boy. Gimli the tractor is very strong, just like the Dwarf, and likes to tear apart blackberry roots just like they’re Orcs. My uncle said I could use Gimli anytime. Gimli is awesome.

Sam Gamgee’s Happy Place

“Where there’s life, there’s hope.” –The Gaffer Gamgee

I went for a barefoot walk in the garden this morning. I felt very Hobbit-like. Nobody was up yet at 6:00 AM except for my neighbor, Mark, out watering his garden and hissing at the deer. (Even though we live in town the deer creep down from the hills and try to eat our veggies.)

There’s something so peaceful and beautiful about a little backyard garden on a summer’s morning, with the birds chirping gently, almost sleepily. I pulled some peas off the vine and nibbled on them while I inspected everything in the quiet. The taste of sugar snaps are far sweeter than the horrible breakfast cereal I used to gorge on when I was a boy. These peas, that my son planted from seeds, are now seven feet tall and bursting with fruit. The kids go out every day and pluck them off the vines. It’s such a great way to get young ones to eat vegetables.

My Purple Cherokee tomatoes are looking good despite the heinously cold spring and early summer we’ve been having. These heirloom tomatoes are almost as good as Brandywines, but seem to tolerate the Pacific Northwest cold a little better. The rest of the country has been having record heat waves, but here it’s been record cold. The weather reminds me of a trip my wife and I took to England fifteen years ago where it didn’t get above sixty-eight degrees for the entire month of July.

The strawberries I planted in wine barrels are starting to put out little white flowers. The broccoli is getting big and will be ready to eat soon. The lettuce bed is so thick with lettuces we can hardly eat it fast enough. It’s all heirloom: speckled Flashy Trout’s Back lettuce and Grandpa Admire’s, and something so deep purple in color it looks like the color of Spanish Garnacha wine. I’ve let some of these plants go to seed, and they tower over the others like lettuce skyscrapers with their intricate and fantastical seed heads about to flower.

I sit down and look around for a little bit. Onions, basil, cucumbers, zucchini. They all look healthy. I can’t wait to eat them! I think about Sam Gamgee and how, when he and Frodo are in Mordor, the son of the Old Gaffer imagines himself back in the gardens at Bag End. Even when he’s asleep he dreams he’s putting in a good hard day’s work in his own little vegetable beds. It’s his happy place. And when you sit in your own small garden on a summer morning like this you can understand why.It doesn’t really take that much effort to make a little backyard garden. All you need is some dirt and some seeds. Stuff wants to grow.

Lord of the Rings trivia: When Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton got married, they changed their last name to “Gardner” and started a long line of Hobbit children (thirteen of them!) to make the Shire grow with life.

What Would Bilbo Do…With Doughnuts?

There’s a new doughnut shop opening up in the village near our house soon. We’re all very excited. We can’t wait until it’s ready for business. But every week, it seems, there’s some new article that says doughnuts are bad for us. That they’re making Americans obese. That they’re not healthy. Well of course they’re not healthy! They’re bread deep fried in oil and covered with sugar. Hobbits would love doughnuts. They would probably have “Beer and Doughnuts” night at The Dragon or Ivy Bush. But a Hobbit like Bilbo would be able to enjoy doughnuts and not turn into Fatty Bolger. How? Because Bilbo (and all the other Hobbits) walk everywhere, unlike us Americans who are addicted to our cars.

I once knew a girl in college who lived directly across from a store and would drive her car there to get cigarettes. A distance of about fifty yards. I am not making this up. She would get in her Suzuki Samurai and drive to a grocery store she could have hit with rock thrown from her front yard, even with her weak arm.

Frodo and his friends (along with Strider) averaged 17.5 miles per day on foot over a period of twenty-eight days on their trek from Hobbiton to Rivendell. And Bilbo probably walked about two thousand miles from Bag End to the Lonely Mountain and back again. No wonder he spent the whole trip whining about how hungry he was! So if you feel the urge to eat a doughnut, why not try walking to the doughnut shop. That’s what Bilbo would do. (And he might even get an extra one to eat on the way back home!)