I Owe It All to Christopher Lee – How the LOTR Films Changed My Life

by Dec 22, 2005Stories

I think everyone, whether she admits it or not, makes resolutions about this time of year, but I think I’m doubly prone to it because not only is the new year the season of resolutions, but it also marks my own birthday–January 9. So in the first week of each January I resolve to change my life somehow, but in 2001, when I turned 40, I felt that need particularly keenly. My girls, then 5 and 3, were going to kindergarten and preschool, and for the first time since 1995 I was beginning to have that ultimate treasure: time to myself. But that time was getting frittered away doing all the small tasks of motherhood, and I was longing for something that consumed me, like my husband’s love for golf consumes him. Golf is what he thinks about to help him get through the drudgery of work, but I didn’t have a golf–a something that I liked to do so much that I could think about it when I was making beds or washing dishes or cooking meals or ironing. I realized at 40 that I needed that. But what was my golf?
I tried exercising, and while that was rewarding in some ways, getting back into a size 8 didn’t transform my life in the way the diet plan commercials seemed to suggest it would. I tried volunteering, and while that was fulfilling, it was not consuming. It wasn’t until the end of the year, in December, that I could even find something I was passionate about, and it came in the form of a movie–Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Okay, okay, I know I’ve mentioned this movie before (maybe “mentioned” isn’t a strong enough word), but I loved it for so many reasons that I won’t enumerate them here. However, as I watched the movie 13 times during the months of December 2001and January 2002, one person caught my eye–Christopher Lee.
If you saw the movie, Christopher Lee played the part of Saruman, the wizard who goes bad. If you didn’t, he played Dracula in the Hammer horror films of the 1960s (and was way scarier than any recent incarnation I’ve seen). He also was a war hero during WWII, carrying out covert operations that to this day he is not allowed to talk about (but when his director Peter Jackson tried to instruct him on how to act during a stabbing, Lee replied that he had actually heard people being stabbed and needed no instruction). In 2002, Christopher Lee’s face was on the big screens that winter in Lord of the Rings and he was set to appear again in The Phantom Menace, the second Star Wars prequel, that summer. Christopher Lee was 79 years old and was starring in the two biggest blockbuster franchises ever. As I turned 41 years old that January, I began to think that it was still possible to do something special with my life, as long as I used the 40 years or so I had left wisely. If Christopher Lee could still be acting in his 70s and 80s, then I could find a new career in my 40s. I decided then that I would write.
But before I could write I needed a topic, and although I was toying with the idea of writing my own version of the Sangreal, the grail quest, I really had no set topic in mind when I received a call from my friend Pam DeGrood, who asked me to come on board with her to publish a magazine, GS Magazine. I had no decent editing experience, but I said yes, and I have to admit this magazine gave me my first public demonstration of my work, since I wrote some of the articles as well. To be honest, I found I didn’t like that work, but I did like the discipline it gave me for writing as often as I could, if not every day, and even though I resigned from the magazine after about 3 or 4 issues, I will always be grateful for the jumpstart it gave me.
Around that time I also found a topic–when I wasn’t paying attention during a sermon on Enoch (sorry Daniel), I began rereading the passage in Genesis 6:1-6 that had always caught my attention as a young adult, about the Nephilim and the heroes of old. I had a topic, and suddenly I found myself daydreaming this story that began making its way into my writing. Slowly, I began fabricating a pre-flood world, writing a chapter a month–sometimes more, sometimes less. My sister Rankin, my husband Pat, and my friend Pam Vyge agreed to be my readers to help me keep on task, and so I started writing my novel. As I write this article now (sitting in the back of the MIS gym handing out fundraiser orders, writing on my laptop as I listen to the coach lecture on the meaning of peers and friends), I’m only a chapter and a half away from finishing the first draft. Rankin is the only reader still hanging in there, but I’m too close to finishing to stop now.
This resolve to write, though, has filled my life in other ways as well. In January of 2005, I thought I should perhaps offer my services to Melia, and when she called me asking me to write an article about family for the February issue, I immediately said yes. I love writing for She magazine, and the flattering responses I’ve received from my articles has encouraged me to keep on with my novel as well. That spring I was suddenly given inspiration for a Judgment House script. I felt like I would explode if I didn’t get it out, so I wrote up a treatment despite Robby Ott’s assurances that they were already working on a script, and the committee decided to go with my idea. I wrote a scene a day, including guide prologues, and I remember at the time that the other committee members were surprised I could write so quickly, but I had been writing for fun–several hours per day, on good days–for about 4 years by that time. Revising with the committee was a blast–to get instant feedback and the use of other people’s ideas made writing a social activity for the first time. Up until this time, though, I’d never publicly referred to myself as a writer. After all, until a writer is published, she is just a hobbyist, no different than a person skilled in decoupage or knitting. But as the summer passed and Judgment House practices began and the public began seeing my work, I knew that I was a writer, God ordained. And as this January of 2006 comes to pass, I have a new resolution: to find an agent and publisher this year, once I have a revised first chapter and a workable outline.
I really hope I get published, but I have to say that at the very least I’ve found my golf. Whatever I’m writing at the time is what I’m thinking about during the drudgery of my life, and if I appear distracted, you’ll have to forgive me–I’m writing. Always. Boredom is a thing of the past.
Way back in the day when I taught composition and rhetoric, I remember telling my students that an exhortation to the reader to act was often a good way to end an essay, and an exhortation seems a particularly apt ending for this piece. So here it is: Find your golf. This year. No excuses. Yes I know you work and you’re busy and you’re tired and you need to spend time with the kids, but find the time somewhere. And you may find that this resolution will be the one that will truly transform your life.


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