THIS WINTER I reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy. To be honest, I was hesitant about rereading it. At first I told myself the books were for kids and wouldn’t apply to me. I was also nervous about the time it would take to read all three books. But I soon realized that there was a greater fear shadowing me.
The first time I read LOTR I was in my early twenties. I was just beginning to make my way in the world and the journey and struggle of the hobbits held a certain magic for me. I felt that the quest I was going on was very similar to the hobbits'. It was a quest to let something other than the desire for comfort, food, security and relaxation guide my life. I felt that I needed to see the wider world and not be so ruled by the familiar surroundings of my Shire. The fear I faced now was in looking at how I had responded to this quest over the past 20 years. How was I doing as a 40 year old on this quest to be guided by something more meaningful than my own comfort.
I decided to take the risk and make the necessary time commitment to read through the books. I also decided to take an online course to explore more deeply the meaning of the books. Every Monday and Thursday for eight weeks I downloaded a short lecture on the section of the book we had covered, looked at a four-question quiz, and thought about the meaning of Tolkien’s books. I didn’t finish reading them in the eight weeks of the course but I did get started and for that I am grateful.
I am grateful because the books opened up my imagination again. They fed my soul in a way that they had when I was younger. They reminded me that every life is an adventure, that there is magic in the world, and that courage is always rewarded. Tolkien's redefinition of heroism is refreshing. He chooses the hobbits, a mythical creature of short stature and comfort-based tendencies to be his heroes. There are other characters in the book – men, wizards, elves and dwarves – but the hobbits narrate the tale and perform the crucial task. The hobbits are no more brave and courageous than the other characters but their small actions produce significant results in the course of history. They show their bravery in doing their duty, in taking their stand against the evil that confronts their age.
It’s an interesting redefinition of what it means to be a hero. Tolkien is saying that it’s not the rich, strong and powerful that determine history and heroism but the courage of the smaller person, the ordinary guy. Tolkien weaves the magic of elves and wizards into his story to show that when the quest is honourable the forces of the universe conspire to help.