Making Tolkien Content Hurts Me

Making Tolkien Content Hurts Me
Am I a masochist? Or do I just cope strangely with my trauma? Sometimes I think it's a bit of both.

For those who don't know me, my name is Kris. I'm TikTok's #ResidentElfBoi, and I translate things into Elvish and cover Tolkien content for a living. How I got to this point is a story I go into on my "About Me" page, but like Inigo Montoya says in The Princess Bride, "There is too much; let me sum up":

The movies came out, I was instantly obsessed with the Elves, and I learned how to read & write Tolkien's Tengwar on my own in high school. I took online Elvish lessons to learn to speak the language, and the woman who wrote those lessons later became my life-partner. We connected through the fandom, and Tolkien was a constant in the 12 years we had together before she died in her sleep Sept 30th, 2019.

Nearly all of my fandom experience with Tolkien's beautiful world of Middle-Earth have been tied up with my partner. Losing her has fundamentally changed the lens through which I view the fiction, and it deeply impacts every aspect of the work that has now become my living. Most casual viewers won't know this, but:

Making Tolkien Content Hurts Me

Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. It brings me joy to spend so much time pouring over Elvish details in The Rings of Power show or work on translations for fans wanting tattoos that incorporate real Elvish... but I don't think people generally realize just how much of a toll it exacts from me.

Of course, the reason most don't know about this is because I don't share it. I occasionally make a video explaining to people that I am grieving and thus content-creation is slow for a given time. But I also recently realized how much I continue to mask in order to keep doing what I do. The grief that is tied up with Tolkien for me is not just a rough patch that pops up now and then; it's a constant I live with.

If you'll allow me to wax poetic with an extended simile... It's like I'm treading water in the vastness of the Sea. It takes constant effort to stay above the water. Casual viewers don't see when I'm close to drowning. They only see trouble when there is a storm with giant waves trying to submerge me.

I could drown under a serene sky, and no one would know.

"If there's no storm, why did they drown?" most would ask. The reason would be because I get tired, so incredibly fatigued. When I make Tolkien content, I'm basically willfully walking into this proverbial ocean each day and taking my chances. Some days are clear, and I'm rested and strong and easily stay afloat. Those are days when I film, edit, and post content. Other days, I might make a video so people can see there is a storm that will take up all my energy for a few days, perhaps longer. I always manage.

But on clear days, all anyone can see is the glassy calm of the water, not my arms and legs straining beneath the surface. The pain of losing Saundra is constant. She taught me Elvish; there's no escaping thoughts of her when I work. And those thoughts do bring me joy, but it's bittersweet, always laced with the emotional pain of not being able to share my triumphs and joys with her anymore.

A close friend and fellow content creator recently commented that breaking my body happens all too easily for me. They're right. They saw it happen in real time during San Diego Comic Con in late August of 2022. That event was one of the most exciting and mind-blowingly fulfilling of my lifetime... and my body completely broke down to where I needed they're help just to walk outside and get in a Lyft. I had just met the cast of The Rings of Power, and I could barely move.

There is a reason my body did that, and it's more complicated than my medical history of scoliosis and back surgery. The truth that our emotional states manifest in our physical bodies was very clearly displayed. I just chose to ignore it. I'm on the Autism spectrum; masking is what I do on a daily basis in order to function.

I don't tend to mask physical pain, but I almost always mask emotional distress. What many won't understand is that Tolkien can never be mindless fun, it can never come from a place of unfettered joy again. Not for me. It's as if I went from experiencing Middle-Earth and fandom with the child-like wonder of a Hobbit to experiencing it like an Elf burdened by loss that other creatures can neither see nor understand.

It's a beautiful, almost spiritual lens through which I view Tolkien. It's tragic but beautiful.

It's also isolating. I constantly worry I'm going to ruin everyone else' fun or joy. I worry I'll bring the mood down. I've done it before. It changes the tone of a conversation instantaneously, leading to an awkward moment for everyone before we all silently agree to Ctrl+Alt+Delete and reboot the conversation. As a result, I've taken to masking, even amongst my friends. No one sees my internal struggle 90% of the time. And the 10% of the time it appears, I let it manifest in my body.

That is precisely what happened at ComicCon. I channeled everything into my body and just allowed my body to break, because that is something people can see and have the comfort of helping me with. When I openly display my grief, no one knows what to do or how to react, because most people know that nothing will help. Nothing they can do will take that pain away. It makes them feel useless, and that's uncomfortable. (Trust me, as someone who cared for a chronically ill partner in full-body pain for several years, I understand the feeling. It's deeply unsettling, which is why I don't wish it on anyone.)

So I mask it all, and when I can no longer mask it, I let it show up in my body. Like I'm the Orcs in The Rings of Power releasing water that has slowly accumulated into a lake, and then forcing it into strategically placed channels. Instead of flooding the plains, it's forced into my volcano of physical pain... and it causes my body to proverbially erupt. I'm ultimately just trading one disaster for another, but when everyone around you has been trained to deal with volcanos and not floods, you make sure they only have to deal with volcanos if you have the choice.

I force everyone to see my body break, because everyone knows basic wound-care and they know they can pull me from the path of the lava flow. If they see my heart break... all they can do is watch me drown.

This post won't make anyone feel good. I know that. If I can end it on a high note, I think it would be to circle back to my shift in perspective. If you're a Hobbit or a Dwarf or a Mortal Man, you can and should experience Tolkien and Middle-Earth with all the joy and wonder you can muster. Burn brightly. Have your adventures. I'm not here to ruin that for you. Seeing you all bring light to the fandom is a pleasure, and I'll do all I can to spare you the grief and pain I feel. Just think of me as an Elf. The reason the world looks different to us is because of the trauma's we've lived through.

And just because you cannot take this Elf-boi's trauma away doesn't mean you aren't precious and meaningful friends. I'm so grateful you all take a peek into my lived experience of Tolkien. Please don't let it bring you down, just let it enhance your own experiences. For us Elves, you bolster our spirits, and we treasure you for it.

"The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater."
— Haldir to Merry, in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

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