You Can't Get There From Here

During one stop on a yearlong trip around the world, author Gayle Forman braved a steep mountain in Kazakhstan to search for hobbits. Read an excerpt.

Kazakhstan is the most progressive of the 'stans, but even here, journalists critical of the government have been arrested or beaten. Religious and ethnic minorities have also been tightly regulated, purportedly to keep tabs on Islamists, Uighur Muslim separatists, and nascent Christian groups. But because the KGB-era cops don't actually bother with subtle distinctions--say, between Baptists, Scientologists, and Tolkienists--the hobbits, elves, and wizards have found themselves branded as members of an unregistered religion and have suffered a good deal of harassment at the hands of Kazak police. They have had their swords confiscated. They've been beaten. They've even been jailed for staging alfresco jousts on the mall. So the Tolkienists had taken to the hills. But now Ilya and I were in the hills. Where were the Tolkienists?

Ilya was perplexed. "They come here every weekend in warm weather," he told me.

I stared at him, doing my best to replicate the disgust/pity look he'd given me on the trail up. Then I handed him my cell phone. "Why don't you call around?"

Ilya did that and discovered where all the hobbits were hiding: under the covers, nursing hangovers. The night before, one Tolkienist had thrown a wild Friday-the-13th party that had gone on till sunrise. But the hobbits would be back in form the next day, the voice on the phone told Ilya, who gave me a no-problem smile. I gave him a yes-problem frown. I'd have to hike this monster mountain again.

The next day I hiked the mountain again, in proper footwear this time, and met myself a hobbit, a mercenary, several sorceresses, and an army of warriors. It was the first of many meetings. Later on I'd try jousting, learn Elvish, and come to understand just why the Kazak kids were so Tolkien-obsessed.

Reprinted from You Can't Get There From Here: A Year on the Fringes of a Shrinking World, by Gayle Forman. Copyright 2005 by Gayle Forman. Permission granted by Rodale Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735.

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