Like Lightning from a Clear Sky

by Varda

A lot of the people who post to this board read The Lord of The Rings when they were in their teens. And so did I, although that was the early seventies…

In those days I thought of myself as a hippie, and a revolutionary. For some reason, The Lord of The Rings was almost a manual among the hippies and Frodo an icon to the counter-culture.

Re-reading the book over the years however it became clear to me that Frodo is not a rebel. On the contrary, he is quite conservative and even a bit of a square. He does not share his uncle Bilbo’s love of adventures, much frowned on by his fellow hobbits. He does renounce his sword, making him a pacifist hero, and the Elves love him. But he is not a hippie. Despite that, a love of Tolkien identified one as a member of the hippie ‘tribe’ in my school, along with bells, headbands and long velvet skirts. Like loud rock music, Tolkien also seemed guaranteed to annoy teachers and parents.
Frodo was our badge.

A hippie friend of mine, Ali, and I hatched a plot to bring our passion for Tolkien to a wider audience, and possibly annoy a few stuffy people as well. We volunteered to organise an art exhibition of works by our fellow students. The centrepiece of the show would be a large picture of a scene from The Lord Of The Rings, painted by us.

Our trusting art teacher, Miss Bell (of course known to us as Ding Dong) gave us permission, and we set about hunting up masterpieces.

The disadvantages of the plan soon became clear; it was a lot of hard work. Not only did we have to chase up works of art by our less than talented fellow students but we had to spend a whole Sunday painting our own Tolkien picture. We did not have a large sheet of paper and had to stick three sheets together and paint on the sellotape.

The picture showed more enthusiasm than fidelity to the book. It was supposed to be Frodo and Sam before the Black Gate, but Ali put in Shelob, looking like a grey crab, and my Nazgul ended up looking like a green dragon. The Black Gate was actually yellow, and it had a knocker. To be honest, it was awful, but we misused our authority as organisers to put it in pride of place….

Ali and I spent the whole day of the exhibition toiling at putting up the pictures. Our classmates came by and watched or helped out according to their inclination. In the course of the afternoon someone put a hand on the Tolkien painting, or made some disparaging remark, I am not sure, but a row broke out. A punch was thrown (these were boys, I hasten to add…) another punch was thrown back, and a brawl resulted. Only in Ireland could a fight break out at an art exhibition.

Shaken but undeterred, Ali and I went ahead with the show. That evening a succession of proud mums and dads cooed over their offspring’s wobbly watercolours and stared in bafflement at the Tolkien picture. We felt vindicated. Then, near the end of the exhibition, we saw the headmaster swooping down on us at a run.

In those days teachers wore black gowns, so he looked like the King of the Nazgul. Ali and I wanted to annoy someone, but we did not have the principal of the school in mind….

‘The Lord of The Rings!’ he cried, stopping in front of the painting and clasping his hands in ecstasy; ‘I love it, I love it!’

It turned out the headmaster was a true Ringer. As no-one could be a greater authority figure than him, Ali and I found our belief that The Lord of The Rings was the manual of the counter-culture severely dented. As he retreated she whispered to me;
‘I thought we were dead….’
‘At least…’ I replied ‘..he didn’t punch anyone….’

On one of the extra discs in the Two Towers dvd someone said that The Lord of The Rings came ‘like lightning out of a clear sky’. It has this power to astound, amaze, wring your heart and bring about the unexpected ….

And the painting? The Black Gate with a knocker and Shelob the grey crab? Believe it or not, I still have it….