I'm sure I'm not the only student who, having spent their entire childhood feeling unacceptably geeky and awkward, arrived at university to discover that actually in the real world my geekiness, once central to my personality and in fact a bastion of my identity as a human being, has become really rather insignificant and half-hearted.
At school I was a Lord of the Rings fan who could quote verbatim from the Tales of Húrin. I devoured newspapers (weird), and liked dystopian fiction, 70s prog rock and Degas. At the time, this make me a 'geek', a 'nerd' and even, in a bizarre neologism incomprehensible to anyone outside the cliquey bubble of my girls' grammar school, but loaded with terrible meaning to those in the know, a 'bod'.
At the time, fervently trying to prevent people from discovering the Harry Potter fan podcasts on my iPod, and pretending that Kelly Rowland was my favourite singer, I comforted myself by thinking that university would be a safe haven of likeminded, emotionally secure actual human beings.
To an extent, apart from the emotional security bit, this has been happily true. In fact we are quite publicly and noisily massive losers. This has been particularly the case recently, as Hobbit-induced mania has caused an alarming level of Lord of the Rings obsession to pervade even seemingly irrelevant activities, including board games, mass sing-alongs at inappropriate occasions such as formal dinners, and what to my mind is probably our greatest contribution thus far to society, Lord of the Rings Ping-Pong.
So much so that, of late, I'm concerned that it's gone a bit too far in the wrong direction. I feel I've been put to shame by the unprecedented levels of geekery displayed by my university friends, one of whom (whisper it) hasn't even read the book.
To make matters worse, the excitement that I should be feeling about the new Hobbit film which came out last week has been somewhat dampened by a sense that we're all being horribly ripped off. This first part (of a TRILOGY, for goodness' sake) is almost three hours long. Working from my copy of The Hobbit (Collins Modern Classics, 1998, dog-eared) and using my highly developed maths skills (ahem), I'd say that they've managed to cover approximately 365 pages in nine hours, or 40 pages an hour. This is glacially slow. The recent film adaption of Anna Karenina managed a nippy 400 per hour. The upcoming Les Miserables film will cover a positively light-speed 570 per hour. Even the notoriously long-winded Lord of the Rings Extended Edition adaptions managed 90 pages an hour, which did admittedly necessitate the cutting of entire storylines and characters (please, a moment of silence for Tom Bombadil and his Goldberry).
So when I went to see the film, I was ready to be underwhelmed. Armed with worrying knowledge about the notorious slow first hour, the change in focus towards Sauron I knew had been added to appease the only-seen-the-films brigade, and festering resentment towards a gold-digging studio and a sellout director, I was fully prepared to be bored, irritated and cynical.
And I loved it. It was completely brilliant. The special effects were, to my inexpert eye, occasionally a bit iffy, and I don't recall from the book the bit about the mountains having a casual boulder fight, but it was so much fun that I really didn't care. Martin Freeman in the title role expertly navigated the route of character development from baffled to cunning to brave, and the dwarves were excellent comic value. It was nice to see Gandalf and Elrond and Galadriel again, and Elijah Wood made a fun (and I'm sure extremely lucrative) cameo. I even liked the completely non-canon bit with Radagast and the wolf chase. Possibly something to do with the awesome and incredibly cute idea of a rabbit-powered sleigh, but still.
There's something about the scope of Tolkein's creation that completely captures the imagination. The allegories about the triumph of honour, courage and selflessness still ring true, when in other contemporary works they now feel flat and old-fashioned. Unlike C.S. Lewis, Tolkien manages to avoid preaching, and his themes are subtler, broader and more nuanced than anything J.K Rowling will ever come up with.
But for me, more than anything, it's the incredible level of thought that has gone into this world that makes it so unique. Each character, race, kingdom, name and people has a complex provenance and history, often based on classical, Norse, Anglo-Saxon and mythological themes. And the maps. For any cartophile, maps of Middle Earth are beyond anything produced by any other fantasy author. George R.R. Martin has of recent years come pretty close, but I don't think Tolkien will ever by beaten on scope, beauty, detail and design.
So this film, far from alienating me further, has completely won me back to my former geekery. An hour after arriving home, I'd already added the atlas of Middle Earth to my Christmas list. I've also discovered, through some fervent LOTR-wiki searching, the answers to all the gaps in my knowledge, and more. If this carries on, I'll be spending Christmas day totally uncommunicative, hiding in my room with my nose in the Silmarillion. Welcome back, 16-year-old me. Although you can absolutely keep your haircut.