Cathecting to Oakenshield? or, a not-so-brief etiology of Thorinmania — TWO
[I'm back. Continued from HERE, where I was discussing the fact that Thorin may have made the Big Four into the Big Five. Below the path. This was supposed to be two pieces, but this got long and graphics-heavy. Hope to have part three up in a few hours.]
IV. On the Way
Early March, 2012. Vlog #6 for The Hobbit. Aside from debates about which dwarf was Armitage in the wet scenes, we got that wonderfully uplifting picture of Armitage taking a picture with his phone. But the thing that was decisive for me in that vlog was the shot of Armitage being filmed as he wielded his battle-axe and sword, which lifted me up on a bad day. I reiterated it again as a shorter reminder post to myself — Richard Armitage keeps me shining. And then I talked about how to know if a picture of Armitage was going to push me in the direction of creativity — essentially, I postulated, if it involves concentration and showing precision and dedication and love of what one is doing. So yeah. This pic.
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, pre-production blog #6 for The Hobbit. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
I had written last summer about the way that these images of someone taking a picture of someone taking a picture of Armitage affect me by focusing my issue not so much on his performance, as on his ability to concentrate. They’re photos about an event that capture a different position of the subject than the (as yet unseen) caps of the film do. But there’s something else in most of the photos of Thorin from this sequence. Something that I completely disdained when the first images of Thorin started to surface in July of 2011 — something that, although I didn’t write it at the time, I thought was juvenile.
Are you more intuitive than I am? (For an INFJ, I can be pretty obtuse. So it wouldn’t take much some days.) Do you see what it is?
[For purposes of reconstruction of events, some dates make reference to or rely on RichardArmitageNet.com's news page for this production.]
July 10, 2012: Information about more product tie-ins becomes available. I think, who buys that stuff? (I know someone does — TORn has a whole section about merchandise — but I’m still secretly sneering at the fanboyz at this point.) I decide to get an action figure. The cheapest one. To remind myself how silly this is. I pre-order this one to go to my parents’ house, though who knows where I’ll be when it’s shipped.
A representative of my credit card company calls about forty minutes later to ask me whether I made the charge. “The computer informs me this is not a merchant from whom you would buy, madam,” the man in South Asia tells me, with the punctilious Victorian formality I’ve come to accept and expect from globalized customer service representatives.
[At left: The one I ordered. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
[At left: same real estate as before, this time on Richard Armitage's face. Source: Richard ArmitageNet.com]
July 14: Armitage appears at ComicCon. A horrible day. Yet, watching through the next days the discussion of how complex everything is, how much care has been taken, witnessing even second-hand how excited everyone involved is, how it doesn’t seem just like sales, but like artists talking about an amazing project they’ve been shaping — I start to think, okay, maybe I do really want to see this film.
And Richard Armitage looks as confident in dealing with all of the hype as he has yet. He’s learning to shine, too. How is “Being Thorin” changing or affecting Armitage, I wonder? If so, how? The answer seems obvious.
Three days later. July 17, 2012: In the waiting room during my father’s cataract surgery, I can’t concentrate. (I haven’t been able to bring myself to publish what I wrote about the surgery or its aftermath, but between his behavior and the entropic tendencies of the universe, enough obstacles presented themselves that it was a minor miracle that he actually was able to have the scheduled procedure.) It’s going to take several hours because of anticipated complications. I’ve grabbed lunch, for which there’d been no time earlier, but the smell of it nauseates me and I toss it after my gorge rises. I can’t make myself read the book I brought along, either.
It’s either magazines or Dr. Phil, blaring from a screen on the wall, which is particularly distressing today, a show on the attempt of a disgruntled mother-in-law to destroy her daughter’s marriage. Even if know some of this must be feigned or exaggerated for audience benefit, I can’t imagine what people get from watching it. Or maybe the extended close-range exposure to my own family dynamic makes the episode triggering. At length I’m the last person waiting in the room and I ask the receptionist if we can turn it off.
The July 13, 2012 issue of Entertainment Weekly is one of the crumpled magazines on the table next to me.
I’d seen the main image of Thorin in it two weeks earlier when it appeared on RichardArmitageNet.com, of course.
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, publicity still for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in Entertainment Weekly, July 13, 2012. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
You must see what it is now. I didn’t, though.
I thought it was interesting, how his cloak billows out behind him. I wondered if he had some kind of bustle on to make it do that (even though Armitage apparently doesn’t like them on women).
I concluded: it’s the boots that make this picture. The boots are amazing. I’d written about it about five days earlier, describing them as what I thought they meant at the time: an extension of my more all-encompassing Richard Armitage shoe love.
And then, of course, we got the answer as to what dwarfs do with those boots in vlog #8.
One of those moves that seems balletic when you catch it at the right instant: Richard Armitage steps back after knocking boots while in rehearsal for The Hobbit, a cap from preproduction vlog #8. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
One of my favorite animated GIFs of all time slows it down enough so you can see the dance-like quality of the move, and also the concentration with which it’s performed, particularly when you watch Mr. Armitage’s eyes. Intense, focused, concentrated.
July flies past and toward its end. We decide I’m going back to work — as long as they can still cope with paid help they should, they think, and save my energies for when it has to be a family member and no one else. A sickening combination of relief and guilt churn their ways forward along with a certain amount of fear that I try not to discuss with anyone. My spatial perspective on my personality shifts again, or perhaps, better said, lurches, with the room in which I am the caring daughter suddenly moving out of focus and the other rooms of my life, dusty, cluttered, neglected swiveling to move in front my gaze. Hospital suites for lecture rooms; kitchen for office; bedroom for apartment; nurses for colleagues.
Thinking at all about August generates a feeling of inability to cope with the fact that very soon I will be playing the professor again, standing with firm shoulders and projecting a cheerful, principled enthusiasm against the theater of students yawning, taking notes, learning, complaining, and, I hope, questioning. I sense an emptiness about everything I didn’t write all summer, about the stuff a scholar is expected to do, and upon which contract renewals are often based. Though I like to drive, I start to feel an Unlust about packing the car. A vague dread of the drive that I have always enjoyed. A tension in my jaw about moving back into the almost empty apartment I inhabit.
I think: A talisman. Like last August! It worked last August! What’s available? My mind turns not to any of the things that would be easy to get, cheap, autographs off of ebay, or a Guy of Gisborne doll, perhaps, but to Thorin. I think about the possibilities. ComicCon has passed and two main choices pop into mind.
[The sensible choice, at right. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]
I think about this dilemma for a few days. Several of the figures at right are available on ebay and can be purchased for only a little more than they cost originally. But I can’t get myself there. It’s something about the face on that figure. Stern. Cruel. They’ve caught Richard Armitage’s strong corrugator supercilii and piercing gaze, but they’ve quoted them so literally as to exaggerate their effect. And the figure is labeled, unfortunately totally incongruously, with the company’s name, “Gentle Giant.” Gentle? Huh? He looks like he’s about to pronounce the verdict at the Last Judgment.
And a bust naturally wears no boots, which bugs me. That perception seems laughable now. That was my explanation for not wanting this figure? That it has no feet? I hadn’t spotted the issue quite yet, but if you have, you’ll understand.
I ponder further. When in doubt, Servetus weighs her options.
I think about buying school clothes. I’m not working in rags, but I ritually buy a few dresses every fall, so that I can retire a few as necessary. My favorite dress, purchased in 2003, has just developed a rip I can’t mend. I can’t get excited about clothes, though. Slight weight gain during the summer from popcorn and beer late at night, but the real problem is that I haven’t looked at myself in a mirror more than fleetingly since some time in June and the thought of having to make myself do that again, to evaluate my appearance in order to buy clothes, makes me so frightened that I fall instantly asleep while thinking about it the first time. I know how I feel, I think, so if that’s how I look … No more naps over this, I resolve. I’ll be okay, I think, this once. I can mail-order some bras from JCPenneys. My shoes are all in great shape. Maybe I’ll feel differently later. Or I’ll have to quit that job anyway in December and the clothes I need will change.
All of which is sorry, hopelessly fumbling, not-very-obfuscating justification for the step I’m contemplating. To spend a ridiculous amount of money, essentially for pleasure. This isn’t $150 for a costume card or $15 for an action figure; it’s not a donation to a charity in another country that does things I can support. This is real money — two thirds of a rent. For an object that has no practical use. Whose value is given to it only by (malleable) emotion, or by a scarcity that is artificially produced, since theoretically thousands, millions could be manufactured. Probably counterfeiters are already at work in one of those lawless countries we’re always castigating for intellectual property piracy.
Because even though I think briefly about buying the bust, I know what I really want. I want the WETA figure. I know it pretty quickly. But I also look at it for a couple of days.
[At left: Diagram noting the location of Thorin's shield on the figure sold in San Diego. Source: TORn]
The feet look great, I think. Mmm, boots. The figure’s face also has a lot more of the subtlety of Armitage than the sensible choice. The lunge motion depicted in it is also convincing — and finally, I realize — it reminds me of those pictures of him fighting in front of the camera dolly. Yes. Concentration. Loving what you’re doing. Doing it well. It’s going to be a reminder of Armitage doing those things.
I keep looking at the pics on ebay. I think about the question of the “oaken shield,” a feature included in the five hundred items made available in San Diego, but not incorporated in the two hundred available in New Zealand. Is it important to own it? Or should I be looking to buy the shieldless Thorin? Another weird way to apportion scarcity — a figure named “Oakenshield” hardly seems complete without it; on the other hand, the figures without the shield will technically be rarer and also harder to obtain, since you have to buy them in New Zealand. You can barely see the shield — it just peaks out from under the figure’s cloak. Ah — that’s why it billows so — it’s not wind, but a hidden object and a little inertia from battle motion.
I make a few bids so low-ball that a computer program must be rejecting them before they even get to the seller. But those bids provide essential rehearsal for acclimating myself to the amount of money I’m about to toss into the void. Because I know I’m going to come up to what the guy wants.
And I do.
It’s a great transaction, once I get to a price the computer lets the merchant consider. I type sixteen numbers, then four, then three, and click a button to become the owner of #302. The seller thinks the item price will appreciate, but he has a honeymoon to pay for, and he’s already harvesting a significant profit.
(I find out a few days later via April’s Violet, who admits to doing this on blog (and her folie is bigger than mine, because she gets both figures, and she has to pay international shipping and customs on them, that quand on aime, on ne compte pas. Well then. I suppose we could approximate that with “love without counting the cost.” Though it’s not clear who or what exactly I am loving, here. Qu’est-ce que j’aime, moi?)
Though I’m not buying the item for its monetary value — as they say all the time on Antiques Roadshow, items made to be collectible rarely are — this random fact about the seller consoles me. My foolishness or inability to get myself on track for August without an expensive toy to contemplate playing with will at least contribute to the happiness (and not just the profit motivation) of a fellow human. MasterCard first holds the transaction up for several days despite my entreaty when I see that it’s caught in “pending,” and then calls yet again from South Asia to inform me this is not something the computer algorithm that describes my behavior (my very identity? I’m starting to wonder) had anticipated me buying.
While we’re waiting for the sale to clear, the seller and I exchange messages. He attended ComicCon. He did not encounter Armitage. He did talk to Ian McKellen. He also met the head of WETA workshop — a bigger deal to him than the actors. (As I learn later, a philosophy in line with WETA, who thinks the collectibles are just as important as the film.) When I tell him why I’m buying — to cheer myself up for the beginning of the semester — he commiserates with me about universities and immediately sends me a picture of his figure in its display case to “tide you over till yours comes.” He gets whatever it is that’s going on with me better than I do, I think. I see from the picture that his figure has been signed with a silvery marker by Richard — I draw breath quickly, OMG, did he misunderstand my question? — Taylor. Geez.
The hold up with payment means there’s no more time for the figure to make its way to my parents’, though. I have it dispatched to my office address. Where I hope to arrive shortly.
Except that even though I do want to get there, I don’t; I leave two days later than planned, a decisive incentive finally provided by a concerned friend who notes suggestively that I could have dinner with her that night if I can just get my ass in the driver’s seat. Then I take two days longer to finish the trip than I had wanted. I get “home,” and it’s five days before I can make myself go to my office, and even then, only after serious avoidance: a very high-calorie, three-Belgian-beer lunch at the German restaurant around the corner from my apartment, dangerously close, I always think, a meal that would have sunk the doughtiest nineteenth-century burgher into a long nap. No one eats this way in Germany anymore, either. The deadness of mind and stomach are what I need, though. I have to go to get stuff set up for classes, and deal with whatever’s washed up at my office over the summer.
I drive there after that wild carbohydrate-induced nap and unpack the publishers’ copies of the textbooks that I’ll need to give to my TA, and then I realize — how could I have spaced this? — that the figure is there.
This actually something I’ve done disturbingly often in the last six months — forgotten something pleasurable that I’ve planned for myself. Troubling.
Yeah. Thorin Oakenshield is there. Stuck, in a big box.
[After this point, illustrative pics reflect a reconstruction of events that took place a week earlier. I did not take them the day I unpacked the figure. For all the details about this figure, including a more comprehensive collection of images, all created and evaluated carefully by people who have more context for pronouncing on such things than I do, you can see the TORn review of the product here, which appeared almost simultaneously with my unpacking of my purchase.]
What follows are my reaction(s).
TORn is right: the packaging is pretty. Evocative of the atmosphere I expect from the film. Once I’ve removed the product from the cardboard package, however, I see that the box comes with a warning.
At first, all I see inside the box is a sturdy Styrofoam container, which has to be opened to bring Thorin Oakenshield forth from his slumbers. (As proof of the meticulousness of the TORn review, check out what they have to say about the Styrofoam. Seriously. Oh, wait. I was going to stop calling the kettle black. Sorry, TORnies.)
There he was, in the palm of my hand, the King under the Mountain. Let’s leave aside that I only have a very general idea what that epithet actually means; good prose is enhanced by varying one’s nouns from time to time.
I thought he looked great. Heavy. Weighty. Regal. Elegantly pugnacious.
The face wasn’t bad, either. Somehow, by not emphasizing every crag of Armitage’s forehead, they got an image that better reproduced the effect, if not the topography, of his face.
OK, I thought, as my childhood Old Testament sin detectors started to beep so loudly I thought the graduate student next door might hear them, I will ignore the fact that I am about to place a miniature figure of my favorite actor on the desk in my office. I will suppress my gut feeling that I may be stepping on to the terrain of idolatry here. What was that about graven images again and no other gods before ME? Wasn’t that written in capital letters?
Admittedly, the rear view will be a little disappointing from the perspective of some fans (sorry, Agzy), though the figure has great hair and a wonderful scabbard. And very impressive shoulders.
I looked again at the shield, which you really do have to focus in on to see:
I spent some time considering a detail that I hadn’t noticed before that really drew my attention:
But really? My mind is on the boots.
One boot …
Two boot …
Brown boot …
Blue boot …
Well, I guess not, but it did rhyme — and one more boot for good measure:
The guy’s got a base to stand on, with a map of Middle Earth (I overexposed this so you could see it):
So I stand him up:
and then he gets a sword — which has an extra warning label on the sleeve that holds it, because it’s pointy and fragile — to put in his hands:
There he is. I’m happy. I don’t feel like the item was overpriced. I like the boots. I push the figure back behind my computer screen both because of the embarrassment factor and because our offices have been subject to some random “thefts of opportunity” over the summer. I grab the books for my TA, and I leave.
And then I pause, and think one more time, and realize it, dimly. I think, you have to get a digital camera so you can photograph this. It won’t make sense otherwise. Writing, I start to approach it last Monday, when I’m given an unexpected reprieve from the clusterf*ck of the day I’m anticipating — and then back off from what I’m slowly beginning to see, after all.
Said the Night Wind to the little lamb: Do you see what I see?
Did you know that wasn’t originally a Christmas song? Perception is always, always, always dangerous. Why do I have to learn this over and over again?