Thursday, June 19, 2014

Kurt Vonnegut and J.R.R. Tolkien Ended My Relationship

When I was dating, I met a brilliant young man. In fact, many said he was a  genius. I was thrilled. I had someone to talk to about literature and nerdy things, sci-fi and fantasy. Little did I know as we traded classics in these genres that these same books would end our flourishing romance. Tolkien heralded the death knell, but Vonnegut sealed the coffin.

We were sitting in his bedroom one sunny afternoon, on his bed, side by side. We were getting comfortable and he decided to take off his shoes. I noted that he had a lot of hair on the tops of his feet. I had never seen that before.
He remarked, "Just like a hobbit."
Oh, yes, I remembered that was how they were described. I blinked, a bit disturbed as I looked him up and down, for indeed, he looked very much like a hobbit. .My world turned surreal.
He continued: "You know, they said at the end of Tolkien's books that humans mated with the remaining species like dwarves and hobbits, and that is why there are people of different statures and body builds. Maybe that is why you look the way you do. You're part elf."

Suddenly, I was no longer in America, but in some ruined, magicless, future version of  Middle Earth. Since I was being pigeon-holed into the world of Tolkien, I was quite sure that my ancestors had been of the race of mighty tree elves. I thought of my proud Numenor heritage as I looked over at him, an obvious hobbit. Then at  that moment, as ridiculous as it was, I thought, "In the name of my mighty race how can I marry a hobbit? Would not my great ancestors roll in their graves at the thought of the sacrilege of those two races combining? Was I not desecrating my imaginary heritage? Would not the Grey Havens belch up its contents in an angry wave at the very thought?"

Still, somehow our relationship limped on. Like Legolas and Gimli, we traveled unabashedly together, though many noted our incongruity, and some remarked upon it, especially my college girlfriends. Well, they did not actually remark, but kind of laughed at me. Still, I persevered. I believed that the physical was unimportant. It was the soul that counted. I saw much in this self-professed hobbit, in the way Gandalf saw much in Frodo. He was witty and logical, but like a hobbit, he could also be stubborn and a bit traditional, especially about women's roles.

While I sung his praises to others, defending my choice, he thought of me as a foolish, flighty elf. I expected the adoration of Gimli for Galadriel, but he was treating me like I was Samwise,  He would explain the simplest things, assuming I was not as intelligent or educated as he was. He sought to control and manipulate my behavior in a variety of ways. But I came from a proud matrilineal people. Everyone knows how handily Galadriel held Celeborn's family jewels at her command, and here this Hobbit was riding me. It was wrong. If I was an elf, I should be treated like one, with respect, and deference, the way I was treating him. Why was I being treated like the silly hobbit in this relationship?!

Then Kurt Vonnegut came into my life. I unearthed a tome called Welcome to the Monkey House from among the books my father had left me. In it I began reading a story about Billy the Poet. That week the hobbit called and asked me what I was doing. I told him.

"I'm reading about a beautiful girl named Juno who lives in a dystopian world, where everyone is a virgin and sex is frowned on. She is kidnapped and deflowered by Billy the Poet, who sent her this poem:
'I'm five foot two,
With eyes of blue,
With brown hair to his shoulders-
A manly elf
So full of self
the ladies say he smolders.'
What do you think of the poem?" I asked him. It sounded a lot like him, a guy who thought much of himself and less of others, a guy who would rape a girl because he thought it was logical and for the greater good.

"I don't know," he said, annoyed.

I went on: "Afterward, Billy tells her 'You're angry because I am such a bad lover, and a funny-looking shrimp besides. And what you can't help dreaming about from now on is a really suitable mate for a Juno like yourself.'

I could hear him swallow. He knew the end was near, but he refused to go gracefully. No. He went down like Gollum holding onto the ring. I suppose a bit too late, he realized he had something precious in me.
Though the message had been wrapped in an unsavory package,  I learned from a short story that I would never be happy until I met a man who was my equal mentally and emotionally. I wanted a man who would treat me respectfully, who would honor me, appreciate me, the way I would him. I wanted a man, a good man, and I found him after I finished with the hobbit.

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.