Concerning Hobbits, and other matters
It is an abrupt and unexpected beginning.
No plot movements or introductions of main characters grace the opening pages to The Lord of the Rings. Instead, we find a quirky and eccentric exploration of hobbits: their physical features and clothing choices, their rustic lifestyles and peculiar habits, a bit of their history and of course a long feature on the cultivation of pipe-weed. It is an introduction jarring and foreign to modern reading conventions. Where’s the hook, the early enticement for turning the pages? Instead of a flourish of violence, mystery, or suspense, we are presented with calendar alignments, geography lessons, and mathom musings.
Yet, perhaps such a story must begin in these details. For we ask the question, “What are hobbits?” Bright yellow and green clothing. Six-course meals and pipe-weed. Round windows and doors. Hairy feet, and a love for “peace and quiet and good tilled earth,” as Tolkien so succinctly notes. These small particulars are the peculiarities of hobbits, the foundation for their identity. They are the characteristics that remain ingrained in our memory, that make hobbits easily recognizable on Air Zealand safety videos and Saturday Night Live sketches. They are the little things that make hobbits who they are, that set them apart, that really matter.
We turn the looking glass upon ourselves. What are the things that define us: as humans, as Christians, as persons? What will be the traits, attributes, and details by which we are defined and will be remembered? Perhaps they will consist of existential conundrums and deep metaphysical musings. Or perhaps they will entail a portion of the small, seemingly insignificant quirks and charms of our lives. As we recall the Socratic imperative to “Know Thyself,” we wonder: what matters most to the way I live, and in what unnoticed ways is that evident about me?
Here, then, is a matter concerning both humans and hobbits: that in such seemingly trivial detail can exist such beauty and wonder. The small, mundane, and simple has the potential to embody our being more so than all our majesty and power displayed. In the end, it is in the most unassuming of aspects of life that hold the beginnings of the most incredible stories of all.