In case you weren’t aware, today is officially Hobbit Day, aka the shared birthday of both Frodo and Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings saga. I’m sure most of you know of my extreme love for all things Tolkien (I have a map of Middle Earth on my wall right in front of me, for example), but, like most things, it’s hard for me to put into words precisely why I love something. However, in honor of Hobbit Day, I’m going to take a stab at explaining some of the important life lessons that we get from the great inventor himself, J.R.R. Tolkien. Prepare yourselves. Hooray for lists!
5. Anyone can be a hero
I’m a sucker for this kind of message in any sort of fiction. This theme comes out in a lot of my writing, personally, because I think it is an important concept. The big, burly heroes are admired and praised, but really—who didn’t cheer at the dinky little boy in the second Indiana Jones movie?
In The Lord of the Rings, this theme is pretty clear. “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Yeah, the hobbits are small physically, but this point is extended to their “importance” in the world. Nobody would expect a hobbit to scale Mount Doom, which is precisely why the theme works. It is about accessing inner strengths, finding courage that is less obvious than strength of arms.
I have to extend this point further, of course, to one of my role models in the series. Eowyn, unlike our little hobbit friends, is from a world of turmoil and corruption. Everyone tells her to stay down because she is a woman, but what does she do? She faces her fears (and prejudice) by riding into battle in disguise, beheads a freaking fell beast, and defeats the Witch King. With a broken arm. The Witch King that nearly killed Gandalf. In short, a woman (who is constantly told ‘no’) essentially wins the entire battle.
Basically, you never know what you can accomplish.
4. War affects everyone
Though on a more sobering note, this point is still important—especially in today’s day and age. I won’t pretend to know everything about war and its effects, but I do know that war does not end on the battlefield. I’ve been alive long enough to see that the effects of war extend to governments, countries, families. The actual fighting can be oceans away, but the discord resonates.
Tolkien himself knew this. As a soldier during the first World War, he experienced firsthand the violence and the heartbreak. He wrote extensively about his experience, from leaving his wife behind to watching “all but one” of his closest school friends killed. The war haunted him.
Undoubtedly this is reflected in his writing, most notably in the chapters cut from the Return of the King movie: the Scouring of the Shire. These chapters profoundly demonstrate how the war, even when “finished,” creeps into the most unsuspecting places—in this case, the peaceful Shire as it is overrun and corrupted by the remnants of battle.
3. The world is not an inherently good place
…but the good is worth fighting for.
Remember this scene?
OF COURSE YOU DO. It is one of the most moving scenes in the whole trilogy, and it sums up a lot of what these stories are about.
There can be many philosophical debates over whether or not the world is inherently good, but I don’t think there’s much doubt that there is always bad in the world. For as long as we’ve been here, there has been evil on this planet. I’m sure there will continue to be evil until the day we are all wiped out. The point is, however, that there is also good, and that good is what shapes us and makes the world a beautiful place.
Similarly, we all have good and bad in us, and it is our choices that make us who we are.
And, in essence, we are all redeemable.
2. There is always hope, but we can’t reclaim the past
This point is particularly applicable to those just entering college or a new phase in life. Put simply, things can’t always go back to the way things were. Sometimes circumstances change too much—or you change too much—and the things that you leave behind stay the same. Going back to your old high school feels strange, distant, because you have evolved past what you were back then. The hard thing to accept is that things will never really be the same; sometimes it’s impossible to get that back.
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend.”
This is part of why I love the end of the series so much, because things do not go back to normal for the hero. He simply cannot pick up his old life after going through so much, so he decides to move on. This is a truth deeply rooted in our lives: moving on is a hard lesson to learn.
However, that’s not to say that the world is without hope. To the contrary: I believe, as did Tolkien, that there is always hope in the world, always a chance at something better. Remember the epic ride of the Rohirrim? It could be a metaphor for anything, really. When everything seems bleak, when it seems there is nowhere left to go, there is always a light shining in the East.
1. Fellowship is what makes us human
In short, friendship is worth more than gold and greed. It is worth more than power. It is worth more than titles and recognition and control.
I see that in Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ friendship, an aspect so defined in both of their works. I see it in Frodo and Sam’s relationship. I see it in Gollum’s internal war with himself.
We are human by how we respond to and treat others. Mercy, in essence, is greater than justice, because mercy connects us to others and humanizes us.
We need those relationships with others in order to survive and find meaning in life. We need love and trust and all of the emotional baggage that goes along with it all, because without that, we are living in shadow.
Bonus: Say yes to adventure
It’s worth it.