The first time we found ourselves quoting Lord of the Rings in response to a situation in China was in Guilin back in 2007. We were deep inside one of the caves “ooohing” and “aaahing” at the incredible rock formations when we lost our bearings. The way people were milling about, we couldn’t tell which way the tour was meant to proceed. My husband Randy looked at Myles and I. “I have no memory of this place,” he said.
My son and I recognized this as one of Gandalf’s lines from the first movie in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. Like us, Gandalf and his companions were lost in an underground cavern; unlike them, we only needed to watch out for hordes of tourists – not attacking orcs.
After that, a new tradition took root. We would often view the Middle Kingdom as a stand-in for Middle Earth; both places felt equally mystical to us at times. In Xi’an seeing the Terracotta Warriors, we were at it again. We were struck by the fact that each clay sculpture was supposedly modeled on a real soldier who served Qin Shi Huang 2,000 years ago. It was as if we were actually looking at an ancient army, recruited or conscripted from all over China. Suddenly, I thought of something that Faramir says in The Two Towers after he kills an enemy Southron summoned by the Dark Lord Sauron: “I wonder what his name was, where his home is, his family? What lies or threats led him on the long march from his home?”
In Beijing, our free time is frequently spent exploring the Great Wall. None of us remember who was the first to say it, but now upon sighting one of the Ming-era signal towers on a mountaintop, someone will invariably imitate Aragorn’s desperate plea from The Return of the King: “The beacons of Minas Tirith! The beacons are lit! Gondor calls for aid!” The rest of us – even 5-year-old Brigid – then chime in with Théoden’s heroic response: “And Rohan will answer!” It is easy to imagine Chinese soldiers stationed on the Great Wall several centuries ago having to relay a similar call to arms by lighting a fire in each tower.
With the release of The Hobbit last year, the kids themselves found another Middle Earth reference. One cold, rainy afternoon in spring, we were driving on a narrow road that hugged the mountains near the Hebei border when an icy fog fell all around us. From the back seat we heard, first Myles then Brigid, singing the dwarves’ mournful exile song in voices as deep as they could muster: “Far over the misty mountains cold/In dungeons deep and caverns cold …” We looked out at the fog feeling like we were in Middle Earth as the kids continued: “We must away ‘ere break of day/To seek the pale enchanted god.”
Illustration by Sunzheng
This article originally appeared on p55 of the beijingkids November 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com