P.S.: On hobbit heroism

The epics of old weren't just good fireside entertainment: They were instructive. The stories of the Bible, the Trojan War, the founding of Rome, the ring of the Nibelung, the British warrior-king Arthur presented listeners with stories of the origins of the world, the history of their people, or just examples of heroism, of how to act nobly and true. (Think of all those sweaty, bloodthirsty knights who learned to calm down and act chivalrous because of Arthurian legend.)

Which is what Noble Smith's book about the Shire and the halflings who live there (described in my previous post) manages to do, in its own way. That's something I forgot to mention before, and that I felt deserved a post-script item. Smith's book draws on the courage of characters like Frodo Baggins to teach us all how to be.  (Of course, if I were sitting by a fire right now, I'd probably want to hear Tolkien's original stories instead of an explanation of them.) He does an expert job of balancing accessibility with details that any serious Tolkien fan will appreciate.

Take it from Frodo

The arrival of Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" series of movies translates into two ... no, make it three ... kinds of related books this season:

1) Reissues of Tolkien's best books, including "The Hobbit" (no surprise there)

2) Scholarly works for the deeply obsessed fan of Tolkien's work (like Verlyn Flieger's "Green Suns and Faerie," which I wrote about not long ago)

3) A mixed bag of books, ranging from interesting movie tie-ins to silly, slight works hoping to sell a few units while the movie is in theaters

When I received my advance galley of Noble Smith's "The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to A Long And Happy Life" (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's), I groaned. "Here's one of the silly, superficial examples of category 3!" I thought. "Ugh. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins on leadership!"

The closer I looked, the more I realized I was wrong. The conceit of this book does seem a bit silly, a bit shameless in its packaging -- to see our lives in terms of the values of Tolkien's little fellows -- but is it?  Hobbits love the simple things in life: food and beer, friends, a good night's sleep. Isn't that like most of us?

If you've read Tom Shippey on the matter, you know Tolkien intended them to reflect us in his mythic cycle of tales -- so Noble Smith's book makes sense. And it's worth a look.

I especially appreciate his chapter on "bearing the burden of your ring." Sauron's awful ring can only be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, and Frodo nearly dies in the effort. It slowly taints and corrupts him but he never surrenders it even though he has so many chances.  Plenty of people will gladly take it from his finger. Not just Gollum. Give it to Aragorn. Let Gondor take it. Give it to Gandalf. Let the elves deal with it, Frodo. Head for the Shire. Drink a beer and have a warm, long night's sleep.

Frodo refuses, knowing that the ring is poisoning him.

Noble Smith praises Frodo for his focus and dedication. I'd add that Frodo displays a quality most of us lack today. He acts on behalf of a larger community of living beings who are counting on him -- not simply in terms of what is best only for him. Frodo knows there will be terrible consequences for Middle-earth if he surrenders the ring just to save his own skin. So he doesn't. He makes the hard choice that most people wouldn't make today.

I wonder what he'd think of us if the Supreme Ring had somehow teleported him into our world.

(More Hobbity posts to come as Peter Jackson's movie get nearer.)