Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: The Significance of Insignificant Hobbits and Children

Thus, the “small people” who fought and suffered in the Great War helped inspire the creation of the unlikely heroes in Tolkien’s greatest imaginative work. Like soldiers in the war, the homely hobbits could not have perceived how the fate of nations depended upon their stubborn devotion to duty. – Joseph Loconte*

Anyone familiar with Tolkien’s Hobbits knows that they avoid adventures of all kinds and at all costs. Hobbits prefer puffing on a pipe in comfortable chairs discussing the meal they had just eaten, or were about to eat, to paths leading to unknown destinations. They certainly want nothing to do with Dark Lords, powerful rings, and dragons. A Hobbit will choose security and comfort over adventures, every time; until, that is, the adventure catches up with him.

Tolkien said “The Hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imagination—not the small reach of their courage or latent power.” (Loconte) In other words, hobbits are a wonderful representation of the “average Joe.” Before he wakes up in the adventure, he is all about comfort. After he wakes, he discovers that there is far more to him then meets the eye. What he chooses to do with his latent power is the question.

“I have always been impressed that we were here (trenches in WWI), surviving, because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds.” The hobbits were made small, he explained, “to show up, in creatures of very small physical power, the amazing and unexpected heroism of ordinary men ‘in a pinch.’” (Loconte, citing a letter written by Tolkien.)

In the first volume of CS Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, four average children – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie – walk through the back of a wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia, where they join the lion Aslan and his army, experience harrowing adventures, and then become Kings and Queens of Narnia.

Children are weak. Children are often foolish. Children lack wisdom. A perfect metaphor for many of us: for how we see ourselves. “There’s a war? Everyone knows that it’s extraordinary men and women with great power who change the tides of war; not ‘children’ like me!”

Landing in the Adventure
Stumbling into Narnia or landing on the path to Mordor presents the protagonist with a Calling where the answer is “Yes” or “No.” “(I)ndifference to the Call to struggle against evil is not an option: one must take sides. This, set before our imagination in the words of Tolkien and Lewis, is one of the great paradoxes of our mortal lives: the mysterious intersection of providence and free will.” (Loconte)

Loconte cites this exchange between Sam and Frodo regarding saying, “Yes” or “No,” from The Lord of the Rings:

“I don’t like anything here at all,” said Frodo, “step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air, and water all seem accursed. But so our path is laid.”

“Yes, that’s so,” said Sam. “And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it, before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.” 

You have landed in a war. You weren’t looking for it; you didn’t want anything more than to remain before a roaring fire and binge watching a new series on Netflix. But with not so much as a how-do-you-do, the war exploded on your doorstep or at your child’s school or at work. The Call has been issued: fight for Truth, Justice, Goodness, and Liberty, or fall in with Sauron or the White Witch.

Being an insignificant Hobbit grants no deferment, no immunity, from this Calling. Deeming yourself useless and unfit for battle does nothing to keep the Calling at bay. In fact, it appears that God prefers using Hobbits and Children, or so says St Paul:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

* “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918,” Nelson Books, 2015

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

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