I read The Lord Of The Rings long before I understood what it was all about. Our family had a condensed version, where all three volumes were combined into one giant book. It weighed as much as I did.
I was literally in the closet back then. Due to a large window beside my bed and an irrational fear of being eaten alive in the middle of the night by wild animals, I slept in a built-in closet at the foot of my bed. At night, huddled beneath my blankets with a flashlight, I would read until the lines began to blur together and I could not keep my eyes open any longer. I would underline and write down all of the words I did not understand and look them up the next day.
The complex machinations of Middle Earth were well beyond my years but I definitely identified with the underlying themes of Tolkien’s work; triumph over impossible odds, unbreakable friendships and good conquering evil. I kept terrible secrets and answered in riddles when asked about my sexuality. I nimbly dodged crushing blows from monsters twice my size. I talked to trees.
Contextually, where I grew up was not that different from the page. We lived in the middle of nowhere, with no running water or electricity, not unlike Hobbits. Vast forests, dark and threatening, and mist-covered mountains, surrounded us on all sides. A colorful cast of oddball characters popped in and out of our lives at a moments notice.
It was easy for me to lose myself in The Lord Of The Rings. I wanted nothing more than to escape my unsettled life, set off on a grand adventure and leave all of my troubles behind.
The one thing I did not have was Samwise Gamgee.
Frodo’s faithful companion Sam was my ideal man. He embodied the qualities I was missing from the men in my life: honesty, bravery, compassion and steadfast loyalty. He would always have my back, no matter what. I wanted Sam to be my boyfriend.
Many times, while hunting Orcs or evading Ring-wraiths in my own Fangorn Forest, Sam would come to my rescue when things were at their bleakest. I was a little less afraid knowing that he was never far away. My Sam was funny, but never more so than me. My Sam was ruggedly handsome, strong and true. He kept me safe.
I was not yet old enough to fully understand what “gay” was. I knew I was different, but sexual attraction was not a part of the equation. I longed for companionship and camaraderie. I wanted the same relationship that Pippin and Merry had… because everybody knows they were lovers.
When I grew up a little and understood that I was born this way I realized that The Lord Of The Rings did not make me gay. I was looking for a way out of the situation that I was in, searching for someone to save me and because of that, the books really spoke to me. If I had a friend like Sam, who I could have confided in, my life would have been very different.
It is not uncommon for gay men to be fans of fantasy novels. In the same way that we are drawn to comic books and sci-fi, we are drawn to books that allow us to sneak away (if even for a few minutes) from the daily grind of being homosexual in a heterosexual world.
In the end I got very lucky. I found my Sam and married him five years ago. He is kind and loyal and true. He has my back and I have his. If I told him I had to travel to Mordor and toss a magical ring into the fiery pit of Mount Doom, he’d ask: “when do we leave?”
So no, The Lord Of The Rings did not make me gay, but it sure did help determine the man I ultimately married.