7 Things I Learned Reading the Hobbit
I have been reading Tolkien for as long as I’ve been able to. That is to say, that when, in 4th grade I became capable of reading and understanding the Hobbit, I did. And I have been reading the Hobbit (and the Lord of the Rings) annually ever since. It’s fair to say that the lessons taught in the Hobbit were as formative to me as a human being as those taught from my Sunday School’s Bibles or Slater Elementary’s textbooks. “What lessons?” I hear you ask. “It’s just a silly story. It’s not a parable or fable.” How wrong you are.
J.R.R. Tolkien offers us seven vital lessons for life in the pages of the Hobbit for anyone with the wisdom to learn them. If you’ve never read the stories, or you’ve never delved deep enough into its secrets, I’m here to share them with you now. I think you may realize you knew many of these already. But a few may surprise you — #7 surprised me!
Let’s start with the obvious:
1. Adventures Are Hard Work.
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, 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. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something… There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
Sam, The Two Towers (film)
What story do you think Sam meant here, when he was making this soliloquy? The most famous story in Hobbit history had been that of Frodo’s uncle Bilbo: the adventure to Lonely Mountain and the fall of the dragon Smaug. But as much as Bilbo liked to embellish and sweeten the tale every time he told it, the truth is more grounded in reality: Adventures are hard. They’re dangerous. They are work. Tolkien went so far to emphasize this that he literally made this adventure Bilbo’s job. He wasn’t on some noble quest. He wasn’t chosen by the gods. He wasn’t born destined for a kingship. He got offered employment, and he took it.
From there on out, whether because his life depended on it — or because his job depended on it, Bilbo did everything he had to do to make sure the adventure was successful.
Our lives are exactly the same. We may have plans for a long, happy, entirely uneventful life, but sometimes fate does intervene. Sometimes an adventure presents itself. You have to always look at these opportunities for what they are: an employment opportunity from the heavens. Treat it like a job, treat it like your life depends on it, and you will get far, far more out of your adventure than you might have otherwise.
2. You Need Far Less Than You Think You Do
From the moment he set foot on the trail, Bilbo bemoaned the things he left behind. From his handkerchief, to his pantry, to warm sofas in front of a blazing fire, Tolkien points out time and time again that Bilbo spent much of his time remembering all the things he had left behind, hoping against hope that he’d be back to them again one day. All his creature comforts, even the things you’d take for granted, like a soft bed and quiet mornings reading the mail. Things he thought he’d need, things he’d always thought he needed.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to Lonely Mountain: he ended up not needing a single one of them.
Think about it. He had his chances. In Rivendell, at Beorn’s home, in Lake Town. There were many opportunities along the way to pick up a new handkerchief, or any of the things he thought he’d needed. As it turns out, all he needed was his wits, his wisdom, and things he picked up along the way.
We get so caught up in having the newest phone, the hottest tablet, the coolest car… We forget that we don’t actually need any of them to succeed — even in today’s gadgety world. Pay attention, and look around, and solutions will present themselves that don’t require you to amass a horde of goods that you don’t truly need. And this leads us directly into our third lesson.
3. Cherished Possessions Can Come From Anywhere
In the troll horde, Thorin and company uncovered a cache of ancient weapons. Thorin and Gandalf each took swords with them that ended up being famous talismans of good and served them well (Gandalf later slew a Balrog with his, much more fitting than slumming in Goblin Town with it). Bilbo, though, being much smaller than dwarves or humans, found a small dagger, which was neither famous nor named. It earned a name from him soon afterward. The blade Sting became a cherished heirloom of the Baggins family, and when Frodo went on his own great adventure, Bilbo gave it to him, knowing how important it could end up being in the future.
A hobbit of quite some means, who’d never lacked for money or possessions, found one of his more prized possessions in a garbage heap. His most precious possession was found in the dark, at the roots of the Misty Mountains, alone, with only the sound of dripping water and a creature named Gollum nearby. Little did Bilbo — or anybody! — realize how important, how valuable that ring would be. But the lesson was learned. Don’t overlook the things around you. Don’t neglect to look around for what you might find nearby. You never know if that little thing that appeals to your instinct now might someday be the difference between success and failure, or life and death.
United Cutlery UC2892 Bilbo Baggins Sting Sword
4. There Is Always Something Else Going On
When someone cuts you off on the freeway, do you immediately think “Why did that guy do that to me? What did I ever do to him?” How in the world could that guy be so rude and aggressive to you? Did you piss him off? The most likely answer is “He probably didn’t even see you.”
In the Hobbit, the dwarves often find themselves without the services of their wizard, and very often at times when they seem to need him most. The reason for this is deceptively simple: Middle Earth is an enormous place, and things are happening all around the little company of dwarves that have nothing at all to do with them. Why doesn’t Tolkien go into detail about what happened at Dol Goldur? Because it’s not central to the story of Bilbo (a lesson Peter Jackson maybe could have learned). Everyone around you has their own motivations for doing things. They may not all be the same motivations as you, but they might be similar. Gandalf travelled with the dwarves because he had business in the east, and because like the dwarves, he wanted to see Smaug defeated, albeit for entirely different reasons than them.
The men of Laketown had their own reasons for defeating the dragon, too, but their motivations were, as well, significantly different, and much more urgent at the time they chose to act on their desire.
At every turn, Bilbo ran into people who had their own lives, their own stories, their own adventures. When they intersected, their goals and results weren’t always similar, but the lesson Bilbo took from this — and we should too — is that we should not expect that the world is revolving entirely around us alone. Each person has their own goals and desires. We need to find the places where our motivations intersect, and work together to help each other meet our goals. In this way, both sides win, and the world becomes a better place. Thorin learned this lesson only a little too late in his life, too.
There’s more to learn!. See the rest of the 7 Lessons I Learned Reading the Hobbit HERE:
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I’d love to know what you think about them, too. Please tweet me @Gawainthestout with your opinions — or any other lessons I might have missed