The scene: Frodo has just discovered Gollum’s treachery, barely escaped Shelob, the giant spider, alienated Sam Wise, his loyal companion. Covered in spider webs, he staggers around Cirith Ungol in the depths of despair. How is he going to make it to Mount Doom? He is exhausted, alone, and far from home. The weight of the Ring is heavy around his neck and fills him with existential angst. He falls to the ground and enters a vision of Lothlorien, the Golden Wood, where he first encountered Galadriel, the Lady of the Woods. She returns to him in the vision. Holds out her hand, pulls him to his feet, smiles and says:
If you do not find a way, Frodo Baggins, than know one will (Return of the King).
I love the transpersonal metaphor of this scene from the film, as well as this particular line of Lady Galdriel’s ( played by Cate Blanchette ). It has stuck and worked in my psyche for years. I am very good at starting stories and creating the set up. I have four “working” book manuscripts right now. But each one has stopped at about page 60 when the set up ends, and the plunge into the main story must begin. Decisions need to be made, but I enter a state of existential angst. What if I make the wrong decision? What is the whole purpose? What if it sucks? What if I can’t do this? What if it all falls apart? Which one should I focus on? Do I even have the ability, or right? Do I have enough time in my remaining life to write this?
This internal dialogue is maddening, and I give up and think I should just write something simple. Easy. Something I can sell quick. Like Romance. I am fifty-two, how long is this going to take? But even “easy” is hard. Writing a story, any good story, is hard, and takes time. No matter the genre or scope. Even Romance.
And so, each attempt at all of my large fiction projects ultimately brings me to my own Cirith Ungol. I’m tired. I’m over worked and under paid. Life just won’t get out of the way so I can THINK. I’m too old to start a career as a writer. I have too many psychological hang-ups from PTSD with its built in amenities of anxiety and panic. I don’t have the skill or the time to write what I really want to write. I missed the boat way back in my twenties and thirties, even forties for God’s sake and so forth. Despair sets in. Sound familiar?
One of the advantages of starting a career as a writer when we are older – especially if we have been psychologically wounded – is that we know ourselves well, and the stink of our internal Shelob. We also know that there is no more “someday I’ll be a writer” because someday is NOW. We also know that if we do not find a way, then no one will. We bring strength, wisdom and depth to our writing. We truly have “something to say” and the World needs us and our stories. Especially within genre fiction. Genre has the potential of delivering sustenance rather than just gratuitous fluff. While literature “betters the mind”, good genre: fantasy, sci-fi, romance, horror, mystery etc., feeds the soul. The combination of the two: magic.
When we despair about being “too old” to write anything of value or publishability, or when Shelob pays a visit, or when we just hit that wall of existential angst, let us remember Lady Galadriel’s wisdom. Tolkien, among many other substantial writers, was “old” when he wrote his stories. What would the world be like without him? Surely spending the precious commodity of our remaining years writing stories is worth the pain, time and angst. And so, we must find a way.
Thanks for reading.
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Dir. by Peter Jackson. Performance by Cate Blanchette and Elijah Wood. New Line Cinema. 2013. DVD.
Vanderstelt, Jerry, artist. “Galdriel and Frodo”. Mar. 8, 2013, Retrieved from http://www.thelandofshadow.com/jerry-vanderstelt-gives-galadriel-and-frodo/.