I was a Tolkien virgin, having just finished The Hobbit, and was now making good headway into my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. It was a fine summer’s night, and I was snuggled contentedly in my bed, fully intending to finish chapter 5 of Book II before I fell asleep. If only I had known what a disastrous end that decision would bring.
I usually sleep with my bedroom door open and a hall light on, a throwback to the time when I was sure there was a vampire hiding under every bed, and this night was no different. My sister had just turned off our ceiling light, leaving me to read by an overhead night light. She dozed like a good girl while I remained completely engrossed in The Bridge of Khazad-dum.
The Fellowship was now huddled in the Chamber of Mazurbul, reading from the record’s book the horrible fate of the Dwarves that sought to take Moria. Suddenly a shadow fell across my door. It was my mother, and from her lips issued a sound like that of those drums deep within the mountain, sounding out the “doom! doom!” of the Fellowship. The awful death-stroke to my hopes for that night fell in her words of “IT’S 11:30! TURN OFF THE LIGHT AND GO TO SLEEP!!!”
No! My mind searched vainly for a good argument in my favor, as I stuttered out my remonstrance:
“But Mom, you don’t understand! Th-The Fellowship is trapped i-in Moria with a bunch of foul cave-trolls and Orcs!! I can’t stop now! I’ll die if I can’t read the rest! What if someone dies in this chapter? I won’t know until tomorrow! What if Legolas dies? If I read about it now, at least I can die of a broken heart in my bed and not at the breakfast table!!” (I have such a crush on that darn Elf…)
Alas, my entreaties fell on merciless ears. She stayed until she was sure that I had turned off my light, then proceeded to the bathroom which lays across the hall. It was at that moment that a wicked, and incredibly daring, thought entered my mind. Why not just turn the light back on, keep reading, and turn it off really fast before she comes out and sees it? I did just that, to my upright sister’s horror.
I got about half-way through the chapter, then I heard the shower turn off and the distinct click of the bathroom door opening. I turned the light off and dived beneath my covers, trying desperately to look asleep. My nemesis now walked the halls unhindered, and it was no longer safe to leave the light on. But I still had half-a-chapter to go! Fortunately for me, the hall light shed enough light for me to read by and I continued the chapter in this way.
Yet, even as I read of the horrors of being trapped underground with a bunch of goblins, trolls, and Balrogs, the terror of being caught in flagrant disobedience by my mother wore on my heart. Every time I heard anything remotely resembling the sound of footsteps coming down the hall, the book was stuffed under my pillow and I feigned a frightened sleep. This drill was repeated several times, until I was sure that my mother could just smell the guilt and apprehension wafting from my room.
Finally, after what seemed like a literal Tolkien Age, Mom decided that all was well in the house and headed to bed. Unfortunately this also meant that nearly every light in the house was turned off, and I was left in Moria-like darkness. Her last act before retiring was to toggle the hall light down to a faint spark. My heart sank. I still had quite a few pages left (nobody told me that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote such long chapters…)!! But by now my heart was set. The passion to see the chapter through to the end was kindled into flame, and I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a 12:30 face on the clock stop me. I had to get either the hall-light on, or the one in the bathroom. They might seem innocent to my mom, because I often “accidentally” leave them on when I have trouble sleeping (which is too often. All that reading about Orcs…). But soon an even better opportunity arose; one that did not include risking my own neck. I now realize this was very cowardly, but the past cannot be changed, and I choose not to dwell too much upon it.
It just so happened that my sister awoke about this time to get a glass of water. I begged her to do a simple thing and leave the bathroom light on for me. She flatly refused. My heart sank. Her incredibly principled heart would not allow her to be a party to my book-lust. So I did the only thing left to me: I begged. I pleaded. I whined until she finally sighed and gave in. She got up and hissed at me that she would not leave the light on after she was done, but she would spend more time in there than was needed, giving me time to finish up. It would be all my fault if she got caught. I nodded impatiently. Of course she wouldn’t get caught! Mom had gone to bed, hadn’t she? I just had a little bit more to go and then my task would be accomplished!
Detection now could be disastrous, so we had to be safe! I listened now, peeking fearfully over the edge of my covers, clutching the book to my breast, to the sound of my sister’s footfalls walking across the hall. So far, so good. She got her glass of water, then sat down on the edge of the tub and began to read some Calvin & Hobbes. I settled back into my pillows and lost myself in the travails of Aragorn, Frodo, Gandalf, and Gimli, delighted that I had out-witted my mother.
All was seemingly well, until, too quickly for me to react, my mother’s door opened! I was so scared I nearly fell out of bed! My mind repeated the anguished lament of Legolas (albeit a tad bit altered), “Ai, Ai! A Mother has come! A Mother has come!”
I buried my head under my pillow as she swooped down like a Nazgul on my unsuspecting sister. I could hear every word of their conversation. I waited in torment for Colleen to wiggle her way out of it by fibbing, as I probably would’ve done, yet she wasn’t about to get into trouble for reading late at night without dragging me down with her. She spilled the whole plot to my mother, who promptly stormed into my room and demanded the book. I was forced to hand it over, all the while listening to her fume over my disobedience and conceit. Solemnly she pronounced my doom: no Fellowship of the Ring for a whole week! I, who hadn’t been able to go without it for more than a couple hours, was to relinquish my reading rights until the following Tuesday. I was heartbroken.
Mom went to bed, promising to tell my father of the dastardly deed, and I was left to scold my sister for cracking under torture. She said nothing except that it was my crazy idea in the first place, and that I had to take the responsibility. I had to admit that she was right. That didn’t change the fact that my beloved book was in the hands of the enemy.
Now that I look back, it all seems rather humorous, though at the time I can remember that I cried myself to sleep that night. I managed to survive my punishment thanks to the ample supply of other books that I could read to take my mind off of things.
Everyone I knew heard the story that week. Some laughed, some told me they knew how I felt, others stared open-mouthed at the idea that I actually dared to do such a thing. I realize that it was horrible to disobey my mother’s commands, but Tolkien has a strange way with me. I still don’t really see it as the unlawful act I got punished for, it’s more to me like civil disobedience for a righteous cause. That is why the phrase “Tolkien Martyr” appears above, even though I didn’t exactly die for the book. But I don’t know if I would do it again. One night without a beloved story is surely better than one week without it. That is the lesson I learned. No need to worry now, Mom, I am completely reformed. Until next time, that is.