'Lord of the Rings': Quest for the one true fan

Northwest Life and Seattletimes.com recently put out a call to local "Lord of the Rings" fans and asked them to prove why they were worthy of the just-invented title Most Fervent Fan.

And oh, boy, did we get some doozies. There was the teenager who e-mailed from Switzerland (sorry, not local). One e-mail just said, very plainly, "ELIJAH WOOD IS SO HOT!!" (Fervent, but not what we had in mind). There were people who did Web pages, people who publish "Elvish" newsletters, people who offered us obscure trivia questions (no, we don't know who Gandalf's cousin is).

But hands down, the guy who's tops in our book, so to speak, is Brandon Derfler (aka Arrandil), who gave us a succinct, three-point argument that we found indisputable. Not only does he get our Most Fervent Fan title, he also wins the Most Persuasive Husband award:

(1) "My legal signature is in the Tengwar, in a Sindarin style of script. I've been signing everything this way since 1989.

(2) "My wedding ring is a replica of the One Ring, complete with Elvish script inside (although what it says is much more benign than the Black Speech inscription and is in Quenya).

(3) "I once composed a musical setting of the poem 'The Ent and the Entwife' from 'The Two Towers' (back in high school, 1988)."

Derfler is a University of Washington grad student in music theory, who clearly also has a very tolerant wife. Still, how does she feel about his wedding ring being a symbol of all-consuming ultimate evil?

"I don't know if she actually made that connection," Derfler said. And he says the actual inscription, translated into English, is very sweet, not the evil one in the books and movie.

"I read somewhere that the nice thing about a wedding ring is it gives you the power to geek out to your heart's content. That's the true power of the One Wedding Ring."

Were there other strong contenders? Do Ents talk?

Hardest Working Elf: Linda Teller of Redmond, who sent us a list of "Lord of the Rings" accomplishments that is just too long to reproduce here. She's started a local fan club called NorthWesternesse, thrown a birthday party for Bilbo Baggins, organized book promotions, met various stars of the film, organized the line party for the "Two Towers" opening at the Cinerama ... you get the picture.

"The above list is only scratching the surface of how I have been inspired by first watching and then researching these movies, by meeting the cast and crew," she writes, "and by subsequently finding an incredible and lovely group of friends in the process. I am not the most scholarly when it comes to the books and Tolkien trivia ... but I do read the books once every 2 years or so and have since high school. As far as being an avid fan ... ask any of the members of the NorthWesternesse, the Cinerama Line Party, or the Tolkien_Forever (Southern Cal) groups!! They can tell you ... ;) My family, of course, thinks I've gone off the deep end."

Middle-earth Craftsmanship Award: Woodinville's Jen Running Deer, who showed up to the local premiere party in full "LOTR" regalia. She's an accomplished seamstress who's made an impressive range of extremely elaborate costumes based on the movies. Her husband, Tyler, has it bad, too.

Academic Horror Story Award: Joanna Olson of Seattle, who tells her sad story best in her own (slightly edited) words:

"A week or two before finals, a friend lent me her three-volume set of 'The Lord of the Rings' 'to help me relax.' That night, uninterested, but always polite, I opened to the first page, intending to read enough to say I'd looked at it and then to get back to studying. What actually happened was that I didn't come up for air until I finished 'The Return of the King' four days later.

"This achievement was, no doubt, an Olympics-worthy performance, but one gained at the expense of course readings and term papers. In addition, I have no memory of attending any classes. ... At the end of my Tolkien binge, I saw how impossibly far behind I had fallen in my coursework and, God help me, turned to The Fellowship again and started over from Page 1.

"Oddly enough, it wasn't my dismal grades that caused me to be asked to leave for 'medical reasons' in January. No, it was Tolkien again: Specifically, one of the small poems his books had inspired me to write. ... It was the one about the Nazgul — about what it might feel like to have once been human and to end up so consumed by evil that all one's humanity vanished. I wrote it, showed it to a friend or two, and, inevitably, given the culture of the school, found myself late one afternoon explaining to a skeptical psychiatrist that the phrase, 'I cannot sleep/Until the Shadow covers all,' was not a suicide note.

"They weren't convinced, so it was goodbye Massachusetts; hello puzzled parents and, eventually, the University of Washington, where, after a frank interview with a kindly dean named Walter Riley, I was included in the little-known admissions category of 'West Coast Kids Who Crashed and Burned in the Ivy Leagues.' "

Thanks a ton, "LOTR" fans. We'll see you in line for "The Return of the King."