I’ve discovered an amazing thing! It seems the more I write of my life in the late 60s and 70s, the more I actually remember… and in increasing detail. Small things which I thought I had long ago forgotten are coming back to me – vividly, as if they had happened only yesterday! It was Timothy Leary – the great counterculture guru of the 60s who urged us to “turn on, tune in, drop out" – who said, “If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there!" Well… I’m remembering, although it’s only coming back to me very, very slowly!
When I was in grade 11 at Mackenzie and otherwise deeply involved in various music activities, I found myself hanging around with a totally different group. The leader, a thin boy named Larry, was always reading some sort of fantasy fiction. He was currently reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. He had loaned me his copy of The Hobbit a month or so earlier and, while sick in bed one weekend, I read the whole novel cover to cover. I remember crying when Thorin Oakenshield was killed. Never before had any book so captured my imagination… and, upon my return to school on Monday, I asked Larry if I could borrow his copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. He gladly gave it to me and I began to make my way through the trilogy.
Now, what I didn’t know beforehand, was that Larry and two other boys, John and Roger, were also Tolkien fans. Along with Larry’s and John’s older brothers, the five had formed a group known as the “Knights of Ennorath". They would get together once a month or so, get dressed up in costumes very much reminiscent of medieval Britain, and go on treks, play war games, or spend a very pleasant 10 hours playing Risk. They would drink hot mulled cider and pretend it was fine ale from ancient barrels! Had they been older, they would surely have joined the Society for Creative Anachronism… and who knows, perhaps they did.
The Knights of Ennorath had a great battle cry! Whenever one of them lunged at another with a wooden sword, he’d cry out “Nazgul, Balrog, Orc and Troll" in order to summon up all his courage for battle. They invited me to join their ranks, and I eagerly accepted. Each member could lay claim to a fiefdom – that is, a parcel of land carved out from Middle Earth to hold and defend as our own. After making my decision, I became known as “Sir Ian, Lord of Anfalas". I chuckle at it now, but it seemed pretty important and honorable at the time! I was on the inside; in the know; part of something larger than just myself.
There were also two girls in the group – Tundi and Tammy. Being women, they weren’t allowed to be land owners or participate in the mock battles, but they had great costumes and carried themselves as proper wenches. They poured “ale" when we were thirsty and they fussed over us when we were “injured" in battle. Larry and Tundi were dating and spent quite a bit of time together. Tammy was of Ukrainian decent and had a number of beautiful skirts that her mother made – all very nicely decorated.
One of our treks took us to Ball’s Falls – part of the Bruce Trail near the Niagara Peninsula. For me, it was the one of those great times when I was away from home without my parents – it was a terrific feeling of independence! One Friday evening in July, I prepared a morning snack and a bag lunch, and I chilled a canteen of water in the fridge. We left early the next morning; and I mean early. I walked to Larry’s house where we all gathered at 6:00, and we left about 6:15 for the two hour drive. John’s brother, Peter, drove. We parked the car and, with backpacks on shoulders, we hiked for about 3 hours stopping occasionally to take in the scenery and have a snack. By 11:00 or so, we stopped for an early lunch by the falls. It was a very nice day and the scenery was breathtaking. We broke out the swords and shields after lunch, and spent another hour or so in battle. As it turns out, I won the contest that day and was declared “dux bellum" or “war leader". My prize was a small statue which I got to keep until the next battle when a new “dux bellum" was declared. We called the statue the “Arrggh Trophy" because it was the figure of a woman pirate! “Have ye ever been t’sea, Billy? Arrggh!"
After we graduated from high school, we all went our separate ways and I never saw any of them again. Larry eventually became a Rabbi and moved to the US, Tammy became a scholar and translator of Ukrainian literature, and I… I became a lover of literature and fantasy fiction. I’ve read both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in their entirety about 10 or 11 times now, and I collect Tolkien memorabilia – much to the chagrin of my good wife.
When Peter Jackson announced that he was filming The Lord of the Rings, I was somewhat skeptical. How could you portray on the screen the images that I had in my head? Who really knew what Hobbits looked like? Or Orcs? Or Nazgul? I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring with some trepidation. By the end of the film, I knew that I would never again need such a rich imagination… I could no longer imagine Hobbits as anything other than how Jackson portrayed them in film. Finally, after 30 years, Middle Earth had actually come to life… and those few years I spent as a Knight of Ennorath were somehow validated.