“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly west. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now…” Thorin Oakenshield.
There is something beautifully calming about J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories – The Hobbit and LOTR. What Thorin says, “some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure,” is how I feel about Tolkien. Stories of valor; pristine tales where the evil is both powerful and ugly but where good can prevail – does prevail. Not without suffering – not without death, else it would not ring true. But with the confidence that at the end truth will triumph over lies. There’s something Biblical about Tolkien’s writing. Oh, I know – he denied that to the end; that his books were allegories of the Good News and the Salvation Story. But just because he didn’t intend it to be so (if in fact he didn’t – which I sometimes doubt) it doesn’t belie the fact that it is so. Weakness turned to strength – goodness that prevails because evil cannot comprehend it and hence cannot vanquish it – gentleness and meekness, joy. “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not,” as it were.
I once read a book (I can’t remember which one) that described Tolkien’s writing as the perfect anti-tragedy. In a tragedy – things are going well until, at the end, well ‘le deluge’. The protagonist kills himself; a disease rages to destroy everything when all was going swimmingly; financial ruin at the end of a great boom. Anti-tragedies are meant to be epic and inspiring. All is despair, the darkness of the night presses in around until, at the very end, the heroes are victorious, not despite the overwhelming power of the evil but because of it.
I think Tolkien believed in this. There’s lots of analysis as to why: whether it came from his time in The Great War, for example, or from his early life in South Africa. Wherever the origins, the anti-tragedy is – I repeat – Biblical. Where Jesus is poor, faces adversity, faces temptation, discovers weakness and hunger and despair and betrayal until – at the end – He emerges victorious.
It is grand – this world of Tolkien’s. Clarity of thought, when most in today’s world can’t seem to discern evil. Honor, when most today make do with success. It’s stirring, because I too would like to believe that I am a ‘child of the kindly West’. Engaged in epic battles against an evil that seems greater than myself; more powerful, more confident, endowed with a greater energy. Will those of us who fight hunger, terrorism, communism, and violence be victorious in the end? I’d like to believe so. But what if it costs us everything? In that case – would we press on, or shrink back?
Now to the more mundane, my thoughts about The Hobbit. This was not the first time I had read this book – but it is the first in more than twenty years. I was reminded of the difference between this and LOTR. The Hobbit is a children’s book – it is not meant to be epic and sweeping and grand; but a folk tale with a moral. Like the great fables of Aesop. I tried to watch the movies – a time ago. I could not even finish the first. Peter Jackson, for all his skill, did not understand this about The Hobbit. He tried to make Bilbo’s success a feat of strength – instead of the product of his purity; and tried to make the story epic instead of folksy: hence the movies don’t work at all.
All this to say, read this book – it won’t take you very long. Better yet, read it to your sons – when they are still boys. Instill in them the love of the anti-tragedy and the sense of perseverance even when evil looks so powerful. Give them a love of Bilbo; of honor and purity. You will not regret it when you have.