Monday, January 4, 2010


With all the recent posting on Tolkien recently (his birthday was yesterday), I'm reminded of a turning point in life - that point at which many of us realized our interests were somewhat... different than those of most kids. In the age of the "Successful Nerd", such as Bill Gates, Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert, etc, its easy to forget that not so long ago it wasn't quite so fashionable to embrace one's differences, especially in the schoolyard of the late seventies!

For me, that realization came after the Christmas break of my '78-79 school year. After some significant nagging at my parents, I finally got taken to see Bakshi's Lord of the Rings movie. I was enthralled by the movie, it being the first time I can recall seeing a book I loved be represented on the motion picture screen. This, of course, was long before I felt the need to nitpick how true a film stayed to its source material; it was a simple joy to see Aragorn, Legolas, and company hacking their way through the orcs of Moria.

So I went back to school after the break, elated, and asked everyone I knew if they had seen it too.

Blank stares.

That, and the occasional contemptuous "isn't that a cartoon?"

Not only did no one else see the movie, I was actually made fun of for liking it!

Now, this wasn't the stereotypical "jock vs. nerd" stuff you see on TV, there were no swirlies, wedgies, being shoved in lockers, etc. In fact, my usual crew and I were the jocks, huge Steelers fans (this being whilst our fledgling hometeam, the Bucs, were still the "least winningest team in NFL history"), and had a reputation as brawlers. But the difference hung over my head, nonetheless, and was expressed by the other kids in more subtle ways (which probably bothered me more than a wedgie), even the other kids in the "gifted class" . So I learned to keep my newfound love of fantasy to myself.

Fast-forward to that spring, when it was time for the county Gifted Program Art's & Crafts Fair. This is where all the "gifted" students work on individual art projects, and get together at a mall so our stuff can be judged. Still enamored with Tolkien, I bought some little lead figurines I had spotted at the local hardware store (a pointy-hat wizard, a ranger, four halflings, etc), and painted them and made a little diorama to glue them to and presto - I had the Fellowship of the Ring all set to go and win some ribbons (I did in fact get a red 2nd place ribbon in some category or other)! This being the seventies, you could still drop off a few hundred 8-12 year-olds at the mall unsupervised and let them wander around.

During my wanderings, I spied a group of slightly older boys clustered together in a quiet corner, many of them with flat, blue-sponge-filled boxes full of the same sort of minis I had just painted. Going in for a closer look, I realized they were playing some sort of game with them. It wasn't long before they noticed me loitering nearby and began to eye me skeptically.

Inside, I battled with myself. If I let myself natter on about my geekly love of fantasy and curiousity about what in the world they were doing would I be welcomed, or scorned? What's a nine-year-old to do!?

Taking a deep breath (I think), I threw caution to the wind, and said hi. And what I made for my art project, and what I liked to read, and could they tell me what impossibly cool-looking game they were playing with those impossibly cool-looking painted minis, and... And they were pretty cool about it. I spent the rest of the Art Fair hanging out, and while I wasn't completely aware at the time that I had found a new hobby, I was very much aware how nice it was to find out that I wasn't alone.

Oh, and they thought the Lord of the Rings flick was cool, too.


  1. Having finished my Companion project has actually gone a long way to taking myself out of the "nerd closet" I've been in for years. I've been sharing my excitement with folks and even non-gamers have been responding with enthusiasm. I am starting to unabashedly embrace my only took me 30-some years (I'm a late bloomer, what can I say?).
    : )

  2. Great post, Al!

    I was only 5 when the movie came out so I didn't get to see it. But I did have a LOTR magic slate, with the scene of the Nazgul trying to sniff out the Hobbits. I used to think the wraith was a witch. I finally saw the movie in '83 or '84 and read the books in '84 or '85, spurring my interest in FRPs!

    I still love that movie today! I think Bakshi made the Nazgul completely horrifying, even compared to the Peter Jackson movie. And I loved the orcs too, especially their grunts and growls.

  3. I've been flaunting my full frontal nerdity since 1985 or so!

  4. This is a wonderful story! It takes me back to my beginnings! Thanks!

  5. "full frontal nerdity" - lol;)

  6. Great story. Before I discovered rpgs, I was fascinated by a diorama that consisted of orc minis storming a home-made wall that was supposed to emulate Helms Deep.

  7. I loved the movie! Great story and very much reminds me of my childhood experiences with D&D.

    My cousin hated having me stay the night because I would always watch insist on watching his VHS copy of it.

    I grew up in a fantasy friendly family/community. The adults in my life were either pothead ex-hippies, pothead bikers, or pothead college academics. There were wizards, gnomes, dragons and faeries everywhere, even though some of them might have smelled a bit funny sometimes. Tokien posters and multiple printing of The Hobbit with notes in the margins were not uncommon.

    I remember going to my brother's father's house for the weekend (never married mom, so not a step-dad) and spending the afternoon at a friend's house being introduced to the Red Box edition of D&D. I was so thrilled that I spent the rest of the weekend trying to recreate the game from memory. When I got home, my mother and her boyfriend both sat down and went through the "Temple of Elf Doom" my very first homemade adventure made with my own cobbled together version of D&D.

  8. We got a double feature of Bakshi's superb Lord of the Rings and Clash of the Titans at the local old movie theatre back in the day. Talk about a nerdgasm.

  9. It's a shame Bakshi never got to make the sequel and finish off the saga. Would have been nice to have seen his take on the siege of Minas Tirith, Gollum's final demise, and so on.

  10. The Baskhi Lord of the Rings animated film has to be one of my all time fav's. I watched it over and over again when I was younger, and still enjoy it today.

    I think it changed a bit over the years as it was released. The VHS ended as it did, the DVD added narration to the end something like "And so Frodo and his friends vanquished evil from middle earth" kinda wraps up a lot up one paragraph. I see they released a Widescreen version of it. From what I read Bakshi ran out of funding so it never got finished. But I heard he's gathering funds to do a Wizards II. That may be pretty cool



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