On the Paying of Debts and the Smoking of Pipes

Flotsam and Jetsam


The quintessential image of Tolkien (Source)

The full consequences portended by the discovery of 1417 Longbottom Leaf from the Southfarthing in Isengard will not be uncovered until the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings. Given the pace of things to come, Aragorn will not have the chance to bring up the matter with any serious consideration to Gandalf, and the unanswered question will linger, lurking in the background until the final resolution of the story. Small and seemingly insignificant hints have been left for the attentive eye, yet the course of Middle-earth wrestles with far greater matters than pipe-weed.

Nevertheless, pipe-weed garners an appropriate level of attention. Merry happens to be a walking encyclopedia on the suspiciously similar precursor to tobacco. Pippin dares not leave home without a spare pipe, however irrational it seems. Aragorn finds comfort in the draw; Gandalf is infamous for his smoke-blowing. While beer and butter and bacon reduce the hunter’s score, ultimately it is the pipe that settles the debt owed to Gimli. As the prologue to The Lord of the Rings recalls, the only art that hobbits defense fearless as their own invention is the smoking of leaf.

The image of the pipe, perhaps, presides over greater unease for the modern audience than for the lunting Tolkien and his compatriots. Tobacco has been overwhelmingly stigmatized by campaigns against cigarettes, and whatever distinctions that pipe might offer, nevertheless it has fallen out of favor. In and of itself, this is a morally neutral matter. The relationship between tobacco and ill health is a serious consideration, yet health is not an absolute good. There are many pleasures that can kill a man, and yet many does a man still pursue without reflection. It is important that one have relevant and thorough information in order to make a choice; however, it is far more important that ultimately make a choice of their own free will, regardless of pressure or stigma. It is impossible to say whether the pipe lovers of history – whether Tolkien or Einstein or Chesterton – would have been dissuading from their habit by modern scientific study.

Nevertheless, it is certain that the paying of one’s debts by pipe-weed resonates not with a certain reader. Nevertheless, one’s debts remain paid by proper provision. In jest and sport does Gimli claim a tariff on his prey, yet such a laugh speaks to the deep truth of the making of amends. Selfless service remains the ideal, yet even Christ recognized that “the workers deserves his wages.” Perhaps it is true that “the pipe, the pint, and the Cross can all fit together,” as the saying (attributed to Belloc or Chesterton). Whether rightly or wrongly, Tolkien dared not stray into pure asceticism.

Yet there is another sort of debt, a score that also needs to be settled. The ramifications of certain choices and circumstances can reverberate over time and space, and the unpursued mystery and tiniest of unease may unravel beyond foresight. The main struggle for Middle-earth goes on, and valiantly do we continue on through Lent; yet there remains those things beyond the limits of our hands and minds.

2015’s Reflection: “On Being Positively Hasty


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