Reminders from Tolkien and bookwork musings

By on March 21, 2018

I’ve been a bookworm since I could read.

I’d often thumb through the dictionary in my free time (which was plentiful, as most middle schoolers are unwilling to befriend “dictionary readers”).

In elementary school, my dad, knowing my love of literature, began reading through a book series with me at night before I went to sleep. I sat and listened, captivated by lengthy scenic details, the old English style, and underlying themes of timeless heroism.

The book series became an obsession for me and I began drawing pictures of my favorite characters, hanging up posters in my room, and quoting the books at every opportunity (which didn’t do any favors for me, socially).

It all began with one simple line: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

And thus, The Lord of the Rings became my very favorite book series, and so it remains even now, all these years later.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, is a series consisting of three books: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. It is the tale of the evil Lord Sauron, his Ring of Power, and the journey of two small hobbits crossing Middle-Earth in order to destroy the Ring, by flinging it into the fires from which it was crafted.

I reread the series at least once a year, as do countless other fans. We just can’t help ourselves. So, it begs the question: what exactly is the appeal? Why does a book series, authored around 80 years ago, still compel faithful readers to return to its pages nearly a century later?

As I’ve considered this, it’s become undeniably clear that the The Lord of the Rings tells us very poignant truths that we need to hear, even if we aren’t aware of the need.

The vast majority of fans would say that the true hero of the series is not the staff-wielding wizard, the eagle-eyed archer, or even the courageous (and dreamy) Ranger from the West.

Instead, the hero stands about four feet tall, has a deep appreciation for poetry and second-breakfast, and is a gardener by trade. Samwise “Sam” Gamgee reveals to us that even the smallest and most seemingly insignificant can make the greatest difference.

Sam models virtue — virtue that we know must exist in the world, even if it’s hard to see amidst the shroud of conflict. He’s driven by a desire to do good and to serve others without a thought of repayment.

When the ring-bearer, Frodo, collapses on his trek up the volcano of Mount Doom, his gardener and comrade, Sam, resolves to complete the quest even if it brings about his ruin. ‘“I’ll get there, if I leave everything but my bones behind,” says Sam to himself, while Frodo is delirious and weak from the weight of the Ring. “And I’ll carry Mr. Frodo up myself, if it breaks my back and heart’” (Return of the King).

In the movie version of The Two Towers, Sam’s unending belief that good will triumph over evil in the end is revealed when Frodo, despairing, tells Sam that he cannot fulfill the quest to destroy the Ring, to which Sam replies, “…but it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer… There’s good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and its worth fighting for.”

The Lord of the Rings challenges us to climb our personal “Mount Doom”, carrying our friends on our backs when they can’t climb anymore. It reminds us that the weakest among us may harbor the kindest and most courageous hearts. And it fills a void deep inside, where we desire to see good triumph over evil, and the world set right again.

It is a tale of seemingly insurmountable evil, of a shadow creeping slowly over a land, bringing division and darkness. Each time I reread the series, I feel the cold sweeping through the country. We wonder how the world can ever “go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened” (The Two Towers).

And yet, our attention is continually drawn to two small hobbits, scrambling up the side of a volcano, one draped across the back of the other believing that they climb towards certain death, yet for the good of all, they climb on. Unimpeachable heroes until the end.

Our hearts yearn to know that this courage, this morality, exists in our world today. Intrinsically, we know that there is much to be redeemed.

So we cheer for those who staunchly carry on, putting one foot in front of the other, in the face of opposition. We lament with those who stumble, and admire those who pause to pick them up. We hope that, when faced with great evil, we too would have the courage and stoutness of heart to raise a trembling hand and say, “I will do it — I will take the Ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way.”

The Lord of the Rings gives us hope that good remains, even in our sorrow-filled, politically-torn world. I think that may have been Tolkien’s goal all along. We need to be reminded that regardless of how bleak the night may appear, morning is coming. It always comes.

We need stories. We need tales like The Lord of the Rings. They remind us to climb on, fixing our eyes on the hope of a better world ahead.

 

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