Three’s Company & A Short Cut to Mushrooms
The Lord of the Rings is a story about the passing of things. Even before we reach the outskirts of the Shire’s borders do we witness the unfolding of that core theme.
Sam is passing: passing through the Shire, passing outside his small known world and into the great unknown. His hope? “What about the Elves? Can’t we go and see them?” Sam obtains his desire and more beyond it: an evening celebration with the Fair Folk, featuring song and food and merriment. Though such a small experience in the grand unraveling of the story, it nevertheless remains a chief event of Sam’s life, one surpassing words and memories to recall.
Frodo too is passing: passing out of the Shire, passing far from comfort and into a dangerous world. His hope? “I should like to save the Shire, if I could.” Frodo must sacrifice almost everything he has – home, material goods, community, even seemingly all his friends but one – to prevent danger from causing those things harm. In this passing, he portends that he may never see those sources of joy again, and it leaves him bittersweet. For though they are his loss, he finds comforting resolve in knowing they remain safe.
And Gildor is passing: passing, as with all the Elves, beyond Middle-earth, passing into legend and story. No one owns the world, and truly all things pass: “others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more.” The Wandering Companies pass in and out of this tale, and linger not long, for they “have their own labours and their own sorrows.” Yet as the Elves prepare to depart these shores, they find surprise delight in the simple ways of these hobbits. Gildor’s unexpected hope? “It is fair to hear words of the Ancient Speech from the lips of other wanderers in the world.” The Elf gains a glimpse of something he loves – the high language that can speak the name of Elbereth – remaining in the minds and hearts of others, even after he has gone.
The Lord of the Rings is a story about the passing of things. It is a chief reason why it resonates so well with us, and why the Lenten season evokes it. For our lives are ones of passing, and in Sam, Frodo, and Gildor, we can uncover some unknown hopes. Though passing, we can hope to experience those great desires we foster, even though they may happen at small, unexpected times that we cannot truly recollect. Though passing, we can hope that our actions help preserve our Shires, whatever they might be, from harm. And though passing, we can hope that some lovely things might long endure to cause delight, even in ways and with those we do not expect. The world’s passing brings all things to ruin, but even in their ruin can they inspire wonder and delight.
Such are the hopes of the passing people. Such are the hopes of all who pass.