While most of you were probably attending your second or third viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring, we were still waiting for it to make to the theater.
Who were “we”? A small pocket of boarding school students in Kenya.
Every Friday I would rush to the library to check The Daily Nation and inspect the theater listings. Week after week, nothing of interest occurred beyond the usual fruit thefts, but week after week there appeared a bold little asterisk that said *Coming soon: The Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring. Week after week, nothing. Yet the thrill of anticipation ran rampant throughout the school.
I had read and adored The Hobbit years before the release of the Lord of the Rings movies inspired a crazed Tolkien-trend among readers. I knew little of the trilogy except that it had to do with Bilbo’s nephew, who as far as I knew, was called Bono. Being that I lived in Africa, there was little or no chance of inspecting the book series for myself, and so I had to rely upon the word of an unenthusiastic college graduate who claimed that he could not get into Fellowship of the Ring as it was so painfully slow. Still, I knew enough about the story in general to identify the movie when I saw something about it by chance on CNN one day. That CNN blip was the first I had ever heard about movies being made from Tolkien’s works, and for the next two years, the news stories built and developed until my anticipation far surpassed even waiting for Star Wars. Magazine clippings and photocopies were soon tacked to my dorm room walls, and I began saving Coke bottles.
At boarding school, the cost of a bottled soda was 30 shillings. Once you had consumed your beverage, you could return the bottle for a refund of 10 shillings. The cost of a movie ticket was 300 shillings. On Saturdays and special event days, my friends and I would scour the rugby field and bleachers for discarded bottles, and stash them in our rooms, saving for the movie ticket, when the movie should finally make its way to our forgotten theater in East Africa. Honestly speaking, I had a decent allowance and was not an extravagant spender, so I hardly needed to collect bottles to come up with the money for the movie ticket, but it added to the thrill of waiting.
And then it happened one Sunday (in February or March). The word spread through the campus quicker than the viral epidemics that we suffered from at least once a year: The Fellowship of the Ring was finally in the theater. Soon, everyone was calling their parents, friends, and anyone they knew with a vehicle and trying to beg, haggle, and bargain their way to the theater. I had connections—a good friend whose parents lived on campus as staff members and were going into town that very day. She found me at the last possible moment and excitedly told me they had a seat in the car and a ticket if I wanted to go. Soon, we were on our way, and standing in line with half the campus. The movie began, my heart leapt, and so began the first step in the journey through the films that would very nearly define my high school years.
I saw The Fellowship of the Ring in the theater three times. It was easily the most stunning movie I had ever seen, and everyone at school would not stop talking about it. Soon enough there was a waiting list at the library for the few copies we had of the trilogy. We did not have Facebook back then, so quotes were posted on desks instead. Every now and then someone would acquire some chalk and post a quote, doodle, or symbol on the outside of the cafeteria. The bottle-hording became a vicious battle of snatching and stashing for everyone that wanted to see the movie, and it was not uncommon to see students carrying trash bags full of bottles down to the student center for the refund. The hype carried us the whole way to the anticipation of The Two Towers.
By this time, a better theater had been built in Nairobi, and movies came much quicker than the previous three month delay. As such, I had the opportunity to see The Two Towers before returning to school for the second term, which began the second the week of January. The hype filled the air again, and no subject was untouched, much to the annoyance of my dorm parent, who had no taste for epic features of any kind, and quickly grew tired of the endless chatter. Although, I did have a rather funny orc impression that made her laugh. This particular imitation involving me bulging my eyes out and straining my mouth as wide as possible and saying “What ‘bout the legs? They don’t need those…” was such a hit with a fellow dorm mate, that she became one of my dearest friends overnight. The following year we roomed together and carried on long into the night talking incessantly about each movie, book, character, scene, costume, everything right down to the musical notes. We listened to the soundtracks during study hall, pasted our walls with pictures, and eagerly awaited the release of The Return of the King.
To say that Return of the King was a bittersweet finale would be a gross understatement. The roommate and I made arrangements to spend a day in town to see it together (though it was our second viewing each), and we sobbed together. Say what you will, we were unashamed. And when we saw it for a third time, we were hardly less moved by the masterful finale to the epic saga. The analysis and dissection of every possible detail of the movie became a defining feature of my senior year. Sometimes we would listen to the soundtrack during study time and then both stop on an emotional crescendo and exchange knowing looks before sighing heavily and returning to our studies. We were scolded many times for talking when we should have been studying, or talking when we should have been sleeping, or talking when we should have been cleaning, or any number of more productive things, but we never learned. We just learned to be more devious.
My time at boarding school ended a few short months after The Return of the King ended the trilogy. When the time came for me to depart, I knew I was going back to the land where there were no three month delays on movie releases, and so I gave my roommate and dear friend the One Ring. Well, it was a trinket from my bookmark, but for the hopeless imaginative zealots that we were, it might as well have been the One Ring. I handed off my guide to the Lord of the Rings monsters to my "little brother", whom I sat with many times looking at the various beasts in my book. These I left behind, and took with me sweet sweet memories of late nights with my friend, moments before lunch with my little brother, and stashing soda bottles. It wasn't about the movies and the books; it was about the memories we built because of them.
And then I moved to the land of midnight releases, and was at the front of the line for The Hobbit.