Not many people know this about me, especially the military historians who interview me and obsess over my battles. “There’s plenty else to know about Captain America besides the fighting,” I say to them, but they never listen. It’s too bad too because they’re missing out on one of my greatest passions.
The Lord of the Rings.
You see, when I woke from the ice and caught up with the modern world, one of my many surprises was that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a sequel to “The Hobbit.” Some people forget that “The Hobbit” is an old book. It came out in 1937. Those were the days when I was as skinny as a clothes line and about wiry as one. I was still a fine arts student and an artist in those days, and I fell in love with “The Hobbit,” especially all the drawings Tolkien had created for the book.
So, to tell you the truth, when I heard about “Lord of the Rings,” which was published in 1954, I went straight for it. Everyone kept wanting me to watch “Star Wars” or show me this music or that movie, but all I cared about was getting my hands on a copy of the Hobbit sequel.
I read the whole trilogy in a week. One of the best weeks of my life. I still get choked up when Sam asks Frodo, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” A lot of sad things in my life came untrue. Many didn’t, sure, but I, maybe more than anybody, know the meaning of second chances.
Of course, a lot of people who know me already think I’m a fuddy-duddy, and when they find out I love Middle-Earth and hobbits and elves, well, you should see the looks on their faces.
A couple days ago, in fact, in our nation’s beautiful capital, a general walked up to me near the Washington Monument after I finished my morning 50-mile jog–one mile for every star on the Old Glory. I was wearing some custom running shoes by these guys. (They had made me some sneakers inspired by Lord of the Rings. The guy who designs the shoes is from Brooklyn like me. I like local-made sneakers made in the USA.)
Now, you gotta understand, this general wasn’t a fan. He wasn’t happy to see me. Well, no, scratch that, he was very happy to see me because he wanted to give me a piece of his mind–something he’d been waiting to do for years.
Apparently, he was still pretty angry about my anti-registration days when the government didn’t like me so much. He had never gotten over it. Thought I was un-American. Called me a traitor and questioned my loyalty to the government, to peace and order and all that.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t in the mood for an argument. I had just finished “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” that morning, my twelfth time reading it. It had put me in a good mood because it had a lot of parts with my favorite character, Faramir. (Most fellow Tolkien fans expect me to like Aragorn the most. Nope. It’s Faramir by a long shot.)
So I wanted to give the general a hard time.
“General,” I said, trying not to crack a smile. “I’m loyal to nothing,” then I paused, “but Middle-Earth.”
I laughed and slapped the general on the shoulder. He nearly fell over, though not from laughing. I think I slapped him too hard. And I don’t think he got my joke. I suppose he wasn’t a Tolkien fan. And I don’t think he knew about my catchphrase. Usually I say, “I’m loyal to nothing but the Dream,” meaning, you know, the American Dream. It’s not the American government that has my allegiance. It’s what America represents, I like to say.
Well, I didn’t give up on my little joke about Middle-Earth. He didn’t want to talk about Lord of the Rings, but frankly that’s all I felt like talking about that morning. He kept arguing with me about something else, so I let him have it.
“Excuse me, General. But in answer to this big beef you’ve got with me, the only response I have for you are the words of Faramir.”
“Fara-who?” he said.
“Faramir, in ‘The Two Towers,’ says, and I quote, ‘War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.'”
The general was not pleased. He huffed and puffed, loudly took the Lord’s name in vain, said a few words I cannot repeat here, and then stormed away. I called out after him, “Keep walking, general. And watch that potty mouth!”
I have to say though, it’s not just the great story in “The Lord of the Rings” that I love. There’s something about the style and spirit. Maybe it’s because it was written during World War II. It feels familiar somehow, like home. It feels like the mind behind the story would have understood me.
Of course, Tolkien was a British professor at Oxford University. I suppose some find it a little strange that me, Mr. Stars and Stripes, is such a big fan of British literature. Well, my love for Britain goes way back. The love of my life was British, though she’s since passed on.
And maybe that’s another reason I love “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s well-known for its melancholy. It has a strong mix of sadness and joy, like a strong mixed drink–not that I drink much. But that sums up my life in a nutshell. There’s a deep sadness and joy that’s all mixed up in my life. I’ve left so many people I loved behind when I went in the ice–people I could never get back.
But sometimes I have gotten them back. Sometimes the sad things “came untrue,” like Samwise Gamgee says.
And most of the time I’m content with that.
So here’s to Middle-Earth. And next time you’re at a Tolkien fan convention, if you see somebody with the name badge “Steve Rogers,” don’t be surprised.