In a hole in the ground there lived | Miriam Walton

Photo by K B on Unsplash

The Lord of the Rings movies have always been tied to the downstairs room of my house. Whenever I picture Sam and Frodo, I also picture, in the back of my mind, the wall lined with bookshelves so full that paperbacks began stacking up on top of each other and on the floor, the worn maroon couch whose stuffing was slowly fading from existence, and my family.

— — — 

I was in first grade. My family started watching the Lord of the Rings series on Friday nights. We would spread a tablecloth on the floor, situating ourselves amongst its colorful flowers and mysterious stains that kept it out of the dining room, and order a small tower of pizza. My parents would settle together on the couch, my sisters, Ruth and Naomi, and baby brother, Caleb, and I on the floor, ready to enjoy our “pizza picnic party”. Each movie was separated into two DVDs, and only one DVD was to be watched each week. I can still remember my cries of indignation when the screen faded to black, signifying bedtime, right in the middle of a battle! I ran around to the back of the couch, begging to be allowed to stay up a little later, just this once! Orcs were breaking down the gates of Minas Tirith! I could not be expected to sleep. I remember my love of Aragorn, and my awe of Eowyn. Here was a lady who was able to defeat the bad guys, not in spite of being a girl, but because she was a girl! The land of Middle Earth began to seep into our games. Ruth, Naomi, and I would play as Hobbits, running screaming from the giant spider who wanted to wrap us up in its web (my dad would always tire of this game faster than we did – I guess even Shelob needs a break once in a while).  

— — — 

I was in tenth grade, and my jaw was just about brushing the floor. Lydia looked back at me from her spot on the couch, confused. 

“What? Did I say something wrong?”

I shook my head in disbelief. “You really don’t know what a Hobbit is?” 

She shook her head, looking to Maggie and Silas for support. My youngest siblings both shared her confused expression. I leaned back against the deflated couch cushions, exchanging a look with Naomi as Ruth went to grab the first DVD from the cupboard below the bookshelf. These stories had been a big part of our childhood. How on earth had Lydia, Maggie, and Silas gone so long without seeing them? It was now our turn to share this magical world with them. Mugs of Ramen noodles set on trays, we all crowded on the couch and floor, pushing and shoving. I can clearly remember Silas giggling at Gimli’s antics, chattering with fascination for the magical creatures, and protesting with horror that, while Gandalf was fighting the Balrog, “he was using his outside voice, even though they are inside!”

— — — 

I was in 11th grade, and the contents of my backpack were strewn around me in front of the couch. It was way too late, and my homework was not done. Return of the King played in the background, familiar enough to (supposedly) not be distracting, loved enough to save us from monotony. 

Ruth glanced at me over the top of her laptop, her legs tossed over the side of the armchair across the room. Her eyes begged me to save her from the boredom of her calculus homework. Suddenly, she sat up straight with excitement. “We should get ice cream!”

While the rest of the house slept, the two of us ate too much sugar and focused on the movie to distract us from our stress. A few minutes later, homework was forgotten in favor of trying to braid Ruth’s long blond hair to look like Legolas’. 

— — —

I had just finished senior year, and my world was changing. For months, COVID-19 had shut down the world. In a few more, I would be leaving the home I loved, heading for college. The spot on the couch where I had curled up beside Ruth the year before was now filled by her fiancé (Ruth had a fiancé!). Once again, the hours were creeping later and later. Caleb was not so much a little brother anymore (almost as tall as me) and was able to join the older kids in the magical land of no bedtime! At some point, one of us suggested a movie. And despite it being nearly 11, we decided on Lord of the Rings

We probably should have gone to bed. We were very sleep-deprived, and our conversation consisted of more giggles than coherent sentences. But there, sprawled on my belly on the ragged carpet, watching the fellowship form, the world seemed a little less threatening. 

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