Nemi – a piece of Scandinavian nerd culture tapping into the world of Tolkien

I first saw Nemi in the late 90’s, she just started to pop up in magazines all around Scandinavia making literary and popular cultural references like the rebel sister of Leonard in The Big Bang Theory, some decade before that show even aired. A cartoon goth girl and a dreamer with a temper and eclectic tastes in music and literature. Nemi was an early herald of the ascension of geek/nerd culture into somethings special which mainstream culture would come to acknowledge on a broader scale. Nemi the goth girl turned out to be a huge Tolkien fan, she sprinkled Lord of the Rings quotes around in oddly fitting situations, often without there being any source explanation in the comic strip, further cementing the act as the ultimate wink to worthy initiates, of which there turned out to be many.

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As the Internet grew bigger, so did Nemi – and coincidentally, nerd sub-culture. Peter Jackson’s filming of the Ring trilogy also spurred an even heavier rain of Tolkien quotes and references from Nemi. Just to mention a few (from both before and after the films): Nemi reflects on the Norwegian weather, and compares it to living in Mordor, and during an election year, Nemi decries local politicians without exception, proclaiming that Gandalf should be president.

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Nemi became translated into many languages and became a daily strip in the British tabloid free newspaper “Metro”, which lead to her becoming printed in graphic novel collections by Titan books and available to an even wider audience in the US. And all kinds of readers grew fond of how the messed up goth girl tapped into the feeling of being an outsider and a dreamer, wishing for the kind of higher reality, or reality beyond mundane reality which Tolkien’s stories often invoke in many of us.

While Nemi is not “right” all the time, and certainly isn’t beyond falling into a form of sub-cultural exclusive (and excluding) elitism which can be problematic, ultimately what is taken from the world of Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings is something genuine and quintessential. The Orcs and the bad guys are in general manifestations of mainstream reality such as politicians, pollution,  war, ignorance and bullies of all kinds, which is why Nemi clutches The Lord of the Rings like a comforting bible when in agony, and why she can get depressed and infuriated from reading the news.

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Not seldom, Nemi is about the small seemingly insignificant person being true to themselves, even through silliness, and by such actions growing beyond themselves. The spark of greatness in the unexpected and the small.

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Lise Myhre, Nemi’s creator, artist and author, a huge lover of Tolkien’s work, of metal and goth music and dragons, sometimes draws strips from poetry, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare for example, but one of my favorite strips is in Norwegian, and as far as I know, not translated. Last fall, when I wrote about Nemi in another blog, I translated the strip, which features a poem by Norwegian early 20th century poet and journalist Tor Jonsson. Both the strip and the poem are to me partial representations of what makes us love Tolkien and embrace the wistful ache for something higher than the mundane.

Poem in Norwegian:

Eg er sorg og glede

Skap meg ikkje om med skugge.
Eg vil vera den eg vart.
Eg er sorg i kvite klede,
Eg er gleda kledd i svart.

Skap meg ikkje om med glede
eg vart den eg ville bli :
Konge i eit ukjent rike,
Slave i mi eiga tid.

The poem in English (my translation)

I am Sorrow and Joy

Re-shape me not from shadow
I will be the one I was
I am mourning in white clothes,
and joyful dressed in black.

Re-shape me not from happiness
I was the one I would become:
King in a realm unknown,
and slave in my own time.

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2 thoughts on “Nemi – a piece of Scandinavian nerd culture tapping into the world of Tolkien

  1. Pingback: An Eagle's View of Middle-earth | Middle-earth Network News

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