‘The Hobbit’: A Metaphor for Our Adventure

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There are many great posters that came out for ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’, the first film in Peter Jackson’s ongoing Trilogy for ‘The Hobbit’. Still , the poster I like best is the one above, where we see young Hobbit Bilbo Baggins going out of his door… for a most unexpected event in his life: an Adventure!

Can you see?… The image of him going out his door is not level – his world is starting already to topple over… Just that decision, the decision finally to go, and his life started toppling over into the Unknown.

Well, Light Being as I am since Eternity and for Eternity, still while down here I feel often so much like Bilbo…

Probably I am one of those quiet spirits who didn’t feel bored at all in Eternal Bliss,  and weren’t interested at all in Adventure, but got themselves finally involved in The Adventure, because of the contagion from the others, the more naturally adventurous spirits…

The same thing happened to Bilbo:

Nothing, none of Gandalf’s cleverest arguments and encouragements, none of his stories of the famous ancient hero on the Took side of Bilbo’s family, could have convinced him to leave the safety and happiness of his home – and of his big Home beyond his home, the lovely countryside of the Shire. The little river there that they called ‘the Water’ was far enough for his taste.  In his armchair near his room, hardly recovered from his fright when realizing the full enormity of the plan proposed to him, he was already saying again an emphatic ‘NO’ to Gandalf and his whole crazy idea: No, he wouldn’t volunteer as the needed burglar, no, he wouldn’t join those thirteen Dwarves in their crazy Quest. Bilbo was, more than ever perhaps, feeling he was just a Hobbit totally on the Baggins side, and so, totally unadventurous – and that would have been that…

But then something happened: over there, next to the fireplace, in the darkness and silence of the night, softly, slowly, the Dwarves started singing.

Singing in their deep low voices… First the kingly Thorin Oakenshield himself, looking at the fire down in the hearth, with so much fire in his eyes and heart too, so much muted intensity in his nostalgia of their lost kingdom, so much inner solemnity in his voice, one by one all the others too rose slowly to their feet, and,  forgetting everybody else, just as if they were all alone there between Dwarves, absorbed in the thoughts and feelings they all were having of their beautiful Erebor at the time of its splendor and invincible power, all gradually joined in the magnificent, poignant song;

‘Far over the Misty Mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away ere break of day

To claim our long-forgotten gold’…

The song went longer than this. much longer in the book, describing the coming of the dragon and the bitter end of most Dwarves in Erebor and Men in their city of Dale, and the destruction of all nature there too by dragon fire. The terrible vision, the terrible sounds were still alive in their memories and in the song:

‘The pines were roaring in the height,

The winds were moaning in the night.

The fire was red, it flaming spread

The trees like torches blazed with light’…

The effect on Bilbo of first their music, and later on their song, is described thus in the book:

‘The music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over the Water and very far from his hobbit hole under the Hill. (…)

‘The dark filled all the room, and the fire died down, and the shadows were lost, and still they played on. And suddenly first one and then another began to sing as they played, deep-throated singing of the dwarves in the deep places of their ancient homes.

‘As they sang,  the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic, moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns.’

In the film, we see Gandalf, Gandalf himself, staying discretely apart, gone respectfully silent in deep appreciation for the high quality moment his thirteen companions are experiencing.

But the full contagion of the Dwarves’ so strong emotion, the full impact of their song, it is Bilbo who gets it. He is sitting all alone in his corner near his room, his head leaning against the partition that hides him from the sight of those near the fireplace. His own quietness we can sense is full of this strange, irresistible identification with the Dwarves, that makes him suddenly understand them through feeling what they feel, and feeling like them.

And how in turn I understand him…

He feels for those Dwarves, and at the same time he feels his own surprising attraction to what attracts them in these far away, dangerous lands.

The next morning, realizing he has been left behind but there is still time for him to join, once on the spur of the moment he makes up his mind to go, packs up in a minute and, his signed contract in hand, rushes out, he is all in the total excitement and exhilaration of that stunning, unbelievable but very real fact:

‘I am going for an Adventure!’

His eyes are shining, he is laughing aloud with joy, he is running full speed and leaps over the obstacles on his way… He is already a different person. Nothing anymore to do with the dignified, cautious and slightly ridiculous ordinary Hobbit he still was even the night before.

His face alight with laughter reminded me of how he was in that previous scene, long before in Hobbiton, during that celebration with Gandalf’s great fireworks going, and him as a small kid poking with great fun into Gandalf in a mock fight,  a short wooden sword in his little hand…

Yes, Bilbo looks suddenly that much younger and more truly alive, as, having at last taken his decision,  he runs joyfully towards the Unknown.

The transformative impact of the Adventure has begun…

A brief but supremely important piece of dialogue between Bilbo and Gandalf on that fateful night before, I keep listening to again and again with ever renewed appreciation, for the dialogue in itself, and for the perfect delivery of it by both Ian Mc Kellen and Martin Freeman:

(Gandalf) You will have great stories to tell when you come back…

(Bilbo) Can you promise I will come back?

(Gandalf) No… And if you do – you will not be the same…

This is exactly it: an Adventure changes you. It brings out in you qualities and strengths you didn’t even know you possessed. In ordinary times, those qualities weren’t needed, so they remained unsuspected in your depths, far below that well-known surface that others, and most often you yourself, thought was all there was to you.

The Adventure of an Earth Life as a Terrestrial Human has the same effect on the Light Beings like you and me who go for it again and again. Difficulties are the test-stones: are we still able, even when facing difficulties, to retain our inner peace, unalterable bliss and unconditional love?…

It is easy to be a pleasant and loving person when all is going well and you’re surrounded with other persons who do not threaten your well-being. It becomes quite another matter when you are surrounded by enemies, or even just one who is making your life miserable. Or simply annoying people intruding into your life and disturbing it, like the Dwarves did to Bilbo. They were even deriding him and mocking him right in his face! Well, that too became part of Bilbo’s inner wake-up call, as he realized he didn’t like the image of himself that he saw through the eyes of those impudent others.

Yet, through their dangerous journey together, although they are far from perfect and he is not either, he will come to love them all, and they to love him just the same too.

This is what truly matters.

Gandalf’s beautiful answer to Galadriel about the small deeds of love and compassion from all the small people, being, more than any great deeds, what is really keeping Evil in check, is quite true. And that little piece of dialogue too is not in the original book as written by Tolkien… and yet it is straight from Tolkien, in that sense that it expresses exactly what Tolkien truly felt and himself tried to express and show in all his books. It is the truth he discovered through participating in WWI in 1916 along with his fellow ordinary human beings: they didn’t look like heroes, they were normally not heroes either, and yet whenever needed each of them proved capable of becoming in all simplicity the hero that the circumstance required.

This is the very important discovery that matured within Tolkien after that totally unexpected and otherwise most unpleasant experience in the horrible trenches and battle-fields of WWI. The result emerged finally in 1937 as ‘The Hobbit’, this new, funny sub-race of the Men Tolkien had been representing in his many first writings which finally were published after his death as ‘The Silmarillion’. In those first grand and epic tales, the Men, just like the Elves and even the Dwarves, were basically all heroic in stature and in behavior, they were all great warriors, always full of courage and everything a Hero is made of in the traditional great epic poems of the past, such as ‘The Iliad’ or ‘Beowulf”, that JRRT had eagerly fed upon and grown upon since his early childhood.

Already in “The Silmarillion’, which he started writing right when still fully involved in WWI, there is the story he preferred above all the others, that of Beren and Luthien, in which that young couple unexpectedly succeeded in what all the big heroes and great armies had failed to do: get back from the hugely powerful and malevolent Morgoth one of the wonderful Silmarils he had stolen from Elvish Prince Feanor, and put defiantly on his iron crown in his Middle-earth fortress.

In ‘The Hobbit’ and also in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, started originally as a simple continuation to ‘The Hobbit’, but which quickly rejoined the vastness and heights of the entire huge Story started with the previous epic tales, the three main, naturally heroic species are still very important characters, but this new sub-species appears too, amusingly depicted as about half the size of normal Men, hence their name in Common  Language: ‘The Halflings’. They represent quite obviously the ordinary Human Beings. A Hobbit is almost by definition the anti-hero ‘par excellence’… and yet in both those two later books written in his maturity, Tolkien makes, first one, and then a few of those Hobbits the unlikely but totally credible ultimate Heroes who will actually enable the final Victory to be won.

All it took to begin with, for each one of those Hobbits, just as for Bilbo who started it all, was to first agree to go at all on such an Adventure. Afterwards, in spite of all the difficulties and set backs, and all the occasions to turn back and just return home, their innate tenacity and let’s face it, courage, keep them going and persevering… and in the end winning against all the odds. And, then only, returning home indeed, or sailing away with the Elves to get properly healed if the wounds they had had to endure for saving the world proved too deep to heal otherwise. But how much every single one of them had grown, in the process of the Adventure they had dived into…

So as an originally rather Hobbity Spirit myself, I say finally a smiling, sincere ‘Thank you…’ to those other Spirits, whoever they were, who have managed to pull me down here along with themselves, for participating in this Great Adventure I would otherwise have shunned, or backed away from. I must admit I have grown tremendously through it all… Joy and Delight can be known HERE too! In this evolutive process too!

And there is a uniquely special Joy in  the sense of Adventure itself, in the sense of renewed strength and confidence and pride, after each small or big victory over an obstacle or another. All obstacles then become simply challenges that will be overcome sooner or later, in this lifetime or another. And all the while, the Song of the Dwarves resonates, not any more in its sad poignancy of inner need, but later in the triumphant pace of the all-conquering Spirit ever marching on to transform also this world into the beauty of the Spirit Realm…

For me, this is exactly what is expressed, although in the stubborn and too proud but indomitable Dwarvish way, in this ‘Song of the Lonely Mountain’ composed by Howard Shore and sung by Neil Finn in the end of this first film, when the credits start:

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