A Conspiracy Unmasked & The Old Forest
It should be recognized, as a general rule, to never underestimate the inquisitiveness of friends. The budding ninja-esque stealth and strategic coordination that Frodo hoped would carry him to Rivendell are found wanting: in fact, it is evident from the events at Crickhollow that Sam instead has the gifts of sneakiness and meekness, Merry of sleuthing and logistics, and Pippin of poetry and hydrology. In the midst of this witty banter and playful revelations arise the strands of friendship hidden in the Shire years now past, the bonds that shall drive these four humble hobbits through the Old Forest all the way to the edges of the world.
The importance of friendship should not go unmentioned. As Aristotle notes in his Nicomachean Ethics, friendship “stimulates to noble actions – ‘two going together’ – for with friends men are more able both to think and to act” (1155a). Few would dissent of the nobleness of Frodo’s quest: the hobbits did not create the Ring, nor possess it, nor seek to use it for nefarious ends, and yet they selflessly (and perhaps without full understanding) take upon themselves its burden. And certainly Frodo’s friends will quite frequently get him out of sticky situations, and his thinking and activity will be bolstered by their presence. As Frodo exclaims, “If the danger were not so dark, I should dance for joy” – the peril is real, but companions are a worthy counterbalance.
What sort of friends are these? Aristotle suggested three basic categories of friendship: those of utility (where the friend gains good things for themselves), pleasure (where the friend gains pleasant things for themselves), and true (where the friend desires good and pleasant things for the other). It is difficult to imagine Merry believing this journey will benefit him financially, or Pippin considering how pleasant the road ahead will be: “we are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you.” Instead, it is for Frodo’s good they set out. As Merry reasons:
“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”
In dangerous times, who can we trust? We naturally turn to our friends. How can we discern our true friends from those who would abandon us, spoil our secrets, and let us struggle against danger alone? With care and wisdom, and perhaps an eye to the inquisitiveness of friends. Conspiracies are never neutral. Trust is always dangerous. But those who put the good of others over their own give us a reason to dance in the darkness, and encourage us to do the same.
2015’s Reflection: “On Fredegar Bolger”