Twelve Passages of Christmas

A number of years ago, I read a post from someone who has the tradition of reading The Lord of the Rings at Christmastime. They expressed some confusion regarding its suitability, but in reality Tolkien is a wonderful author to read at this time of year, particularly if you hold its true purpose near and dear.

Initially, I had thought to compose my own Tolkien-inspired parody of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ carol, but decided against it as it cheapens both works. Instead, I give you the Twelve Tolkien passages of Christmas, those parts of his literary work which both reflect and cause reflection of this most joyous time of year.

Day 1, Christmas Eve/Day: ‘Mount Doom’

At first you may scratch your head at this selection, but it effortlessly fits the tone of Christmas. ‘Mount Doom’ is actually the perfect reading for Christmas Eve/Day, and by extension all of Advent. Though Lent is the more commonly known and practiced penitential season of the Church, Advent is as well. Both seasons function in order to prepare our souls for the coming of the Lord; in Lent for the Resurrection and in Advent the Incarnation. Therefore, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Biblical readings of this time most often refer to end times and the Second Coming, to make us ready and prepared. With the days waning and such grim readings it is also a time many feel a certain level of despair.

Sam gives us the perfect guide. Making their way across Gorgoroth, “hope [dies] in Sam, or [seems] to die, it [is] turned to new strength” (LotR 913). His is a model of faith and hope and perseverance which leads to the ultimate success of the quest. We must also hope, have faith and persevere, even in the direst of circumstances in hope of our ‘happy ending.’

The ultimate destruction of the Ring is achieved not by Frodo or Sam alone, but through the will of Providence, in a cosmic eucatastrophic moment born out of a moment of deepest despair and doubt. Christmas is the same.

 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them has a light shined. Isaiah 9:2

March twenty-fifth, the day of the fall of Sauron and the destruction of the Ring, is also traditionally the day of both the Annunciation and the Crucifixion.  It is a day steeped in eucatastrophe, in both the primary world and the secondary world of Middle-earth. The parity of these two events marking the beginning and the end of Christ’s earthly life close a loop. Christmas is joyful, not only by the birth of Christ, but by the revelation of Christ’s mission on earth, the battle he would fight for us on Calvary.

Therefore it is necessary in the Christmas Season to recognize the fullness of eucatastrophe, the sorrows, the joys, the despair, and the ultimate glory.

Day 2, Feast of St. Stephen: ‘Of Beren and Lúthien’

St. Stephen is known as the first Deacon and first martyr of the Church. He is described as “full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost,” and gives testimony, even to the point of death, of fullness of salvation history (Acts 6:5 & 7:2-50). He persevered in proclaiming the Good News, even in the face of mockery and violence.

Tolkien’s great tale of love and sacrifice echoes the devotion and fortitude of this great saint, while also expounding on the awesome virtues of charity, faith and sacrifice. In particular, the story of the fall of Finrod Felagund in the aid and friendship of Beren speaks to the true nature of giving. Finrod remembers his oath to Barahir, Beren’s ancestor, and promises him aid in his quest, though nigh all Nargothrond is set against them by the wily oration of Celegorm (Sil. 169). They are captured by Sauron, and Finrod overcome.

“But when the wolf came for Beren, Felagund put forth all his power, and burst his bonds; and he wrestled with the werewolf, and slew it with his hands and teeth; yet he himself was wounded to the death.” (Sil. 174)

At this time in particular we are reminded of the true meaning of generosity and love, as a giving of oneself for others. Give the gift of yourself, through your kindness, a smile, food to the hungry, company to the lonely and fulfill that calling as both Felagund and St. Stephen did.

Day 3, St. John the Evangelist: the message of the Eagle

December 27th we celebrate the feast day of St. John the Evangelist, author of five books of the Bible and the beloved apostle. The word Gospel means ‘good news.’ As the Evangelist gave the Good News to all peoples, so too a great Eagle proclaims good news to the people of Minas Tirith:

“Sing now, ye people of the Tower of Anor…

Sing and rejoice, ye people of the Tower of the Guard…

Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West…

Sing all ye people!”

(LotR 942)

Christmas is the “Great Eucatastrophe,” the greatest “Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief” (OFS). This Joy is proclaimed via Evangelium, the Good News, the Messenger and given to all.

Day 4, Feast of the Holy Innocents: the coming of the Outland Armies (Minas Tirith, LotR 753-4)

After the visit by the Wise Men in Jerusalem, King Herod was determined to find and destroy the child who according to prophecy would be a “ruler who will govern…Israel” (Matthew 2:6). Failing to receive word from the Wise Men as to the location of the babe, Herod sent his troops, “[killing] all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16).

Tolkien often brilliantly depicts the nature of hope, particularly as it pertains to mankind. Hope is often closely paired with despair, and joy with sorrow. As noted above for Day 3, the great Joy felt in eucatastrophe is ‘poignant as grief.’ Our joys and hopes are feeble, a flickering candle in the wind, which due to our fallen nature is too often quickly quenched.

The coming of the Outland Armies is a scene I deeply love in Tolkien’s writing, for its awesome ability to delve into the human psyche and evoke that same hope and anticipation in the reader, who counts along with the crowd at the gate. Like the crowd, we come away glad of the aid, but despairing that it is sufficient. It is a moment I have previously termed ‘happy despair,’ a theme which runs through much of the legendarium. The proclamation of the last march of the Ents or Theoden’s realization that this will be his last battle also exemplify this curious emotion. It is a sadness, a grief, but in its capacity to defeat evil and save those one loves it is paradoxically an honor, a joy, a peace.

Day 5, St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr: ‘A Thief in the Night’ (TH 309-320)

St. Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury in the late twelfth century. He was devoted to the Church and the protection of its interests in the face of reforms pressed by King Henry II. In the heat of the conflict between the two Becket was martyred by four knights. Upon his death, he remained true to his priestly mission, commending his spirit to God. Within three years he was declared a saint and martyr of the Church.

St. Thomas Becket is a model of integrity, holding true in the face of persecution and unswervingly following the perilous but honorable road. The true moment of greatness of Bilbo, the true climax of The Hobbit, is summed up in his actions regarding the Arkenstone. The central tale of The Hobbit is not the confrontation with Smaug, but the journey and the friendship of Thorin and Bilbo. Bilbo betrays his friends, not out of spite, but in order to save them as well as to avert the suffering of all in either a protracted siege or battle. It is akin to the lesser deception of Frodo’s friends in ‘A Conspiracy Unmasked,’ which though dishonest has the best interests of all at its heart.

I won’t say much more besides my assertion that this defining moment in the quest of Mr. Bilbo Baggins is a masterstroke by the good Professor and again captures his writing at its best.

Day 6, Feast of the Holy Family: ‘The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen’ (Appendix A)

(Technically this feast may falls on the first Sunday following Christmas. This year, it falls on the fifth day)

In Tolkien, it is surprisingly difficult to find a good tale of family life. Too often the families of Middle-earth end in tragedy or strife or early death. In reality, however, this is not so surprising given the death of Tolkien’s father when he was four, and the abandonment by their extended family when they were received into the Catholic Church, and finally the death of his mother when he was twelve.

Aragorn’s father, Arathorn, dies when his son is only two years old. Gilraen and Aragorn find sanctuary in Rivendel, where Aragorn is named Estel or Hope. The relationship between Gilraen and Aragorn is particularly poignant, especially in their last conversation. The same poignant mutual love and respect is seen in the last moments of Aragorn’s life as both he and Arwen grapple, in their own way, with this new ending.

Of honorable mention is the brief passage on Sam’s family at the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings:

“And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.” (LotR 1008)

Day 7, Pope St. Sylvester I: ‘The Grey Havens’ (998-1003)

Pope St. Sylvester I’s reign began shortly after the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity. He is also the central figure in the forged documents which constitute the ‘Donation of Constantine’ granting the Pope dominion over Rome and Italy. Many of the great basilican churches were also built at this time. He oversaw a time of great hope and growth for the Church.

In like manner, Sam also ushers the Shire out of the darkness and into a new springtime. The year 1420 (Shire Reckoning) is a year of great prosperity, life and health. The earth feels young, fresh and new and the sorrows and persecutions of the past are largely wiped away yielding a more beautiful and bountiful Shire.

Hardship is often viewed in a completely negative light. Though the miseries inflicted by Saruman are certainly evil, without that evil the hobbits would not have found their strength to usher in a new age of plenty. This does not excuse evil, but is a lesson for the everyday trials we face in life: a delay, illness, injury, annoyance. They may be the product of ill will or simply bad luck, but if approached with good will may become the refining fire.

“Spring surpassed his wildest hopes…Not only was there wonderful sunshine and delicious rain, in due times and perfect measure, but there seemed something more: an air of richness and growth, and a gleam of a beauty beyond that of mortal summers that flicker and pass upon this Middle-earth.” (LotR 1000)

Day 8, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God: ‘Farewell to Lórien’

Happy Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God! And to the rest of you, Happy New Year!

The Solemnity of Mary always falls on the Octave of Christmas, which means it is always on the same day of the week following Christmas. Incidentally, this also means it is celebrated on the first of the year. This is fitting given the stature of Mary as the Mother of the God, as well as our adoptive mother and greatest mediator in prayer.

In his letters, Tolkien affirms the importance of the Virgin Mary to his life and work, “upon which [his] own small perception of beauty in majesty and simplicity is founded” (Letter 142). Further, he admits Galdriel, the Lady of the Wood, a figure of beauty, grace and mystery, “[owes] much…to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary” (Letter 320). However, she is an imperfect analog. She is counted among the exiles of the Noldor and refuses the Valar’s pardon. She is therefore “a penitent…pardoned because of her resistance to the final and overwhelming temptation to take the Ring for herself” (Letter 320).

The beauty of Galadriel is nowhere more powerfully stated than by Gimli son of Glóin:

“It is enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadhrim, and to have heard her gentle words.” (LotR 366)

And when pressed to request a gift:

“There is nothing, Lady Galadriel…Nothing, unless it might be-unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine. I do not ask for such a gift. But you commanded my desire.” (LotR 366-7)

And further, when asked the purpose of the gift:

“[To] treasure it, Lady…in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.” (LotR 367)

Finally, the reader is left with the vision of the Lady in farewell, a shining figure of white. As they pass farther down the river, all that remains are the gentle strains of her elvish song of farewell, which fills the heart with longing for the West.

Day 9, Ss. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops: ‘Akallabêth’ (275-282)

Both St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen lived and served the Church as Bishops in the fourth century.  They were friends and collaborators working in the Eastern Empire. St. Basil wrote one of the oldest surviving monastic codes, and was a rock of orthodoxy in opposition to the Arianism of the East. He is a doctor of the Church. St Gregory also stood steadfast in the defense of orthodoxy and was an exemplary orator.

These two Bishops stayed the course, and attempted to lead their flocks down the path to orthodoxy. In like manner, the Elendili worked tirelessly to preserve the traditions of the Númenoreans and their age-old allegiance with the Eldar. Out of these people comes the hope of Middle-earth, which would be instrumental in defeating Sauron both in the Second and Third Age.

Day 10, The Most Holy Name of Jesus: ‘The Window on the West’

The Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus commemorates the circumcision and naming of Jesus (Luke 2:21). His name is above all others, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Phil 2:10).  The typical mode of respect and devotion is to bow one’s head slightly at the name of Jesus. This devotion not only demonstrates the proper deference, but also instills an appreciation and remembrance of what Jesus has done for us.

A somewhat similar tradition exists in Middle-earth, where before a meal the Rangers “look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be” (LotR 661). The similarities in phrasing and rhythm of this statement with the Doxology are striking, and may just be incidental, but I think the wording fits the mode of Evangelium, a sort of sacred formula, which more likely accounts for the resemblance. This simple gesture of silence is a demonstration of respect and remembrance; not shallow remembrance but the fullness of memory, which is an effort to enter into and be part of the history, reliving it in the moment.

Of like nature is the show of respect of the hobbits, who “bow to [their] host, and after…rise and thank him” (LotR 661). In each of these instances a vision of courtesy, manners and respect is shown; a lesson in the simple ways we can treat each other with kindness and dignity.

Day 11, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton: The Scion of Nimloth (LotR 949-51)

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is the first native born American saint. She was married, with children, when a series of hardships and deaths led her to Italy and ultimately reception into the Roman Catholic Church. Returning to the States, she founded a sisterhood, which opened the first Catholic schools and orphanages.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was not born Catholic, but through the trials of her life she was drawn to God, and eventually to the Church and especially the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes Grace sneaks up on us and leads us in mysterious ways.

On a day approaching mid-summer, Gandalf leads Aragorn up to a secret place above the city of Minas Tirith. They survey the realm, the vastness of Gondor, but Aragorn is still troubled. Gandalf gives Aragorn puzzling instruction, “Turn your face from the green world, and look where all seems barren and cold!” (LotR 950)

They find the young sapling of the line of Nimloth. It is a tree which “comes seldom to ripeness, yet the life within may then lie sleeping through many long years, and none foretell the time in which it will awake” (LotR 950). In many ways this simple description echoes the parable of the sower; the thirst for the faith is deep and awakens when the time is right just as there is a season for growth and a season for harvest (Luke 8:4-15). There is always hope, and there are always miracles, just not in the way we expect.

Day 12, St John Neumann: ‘The Muster of Rohan’

St. John Neumann is another American saint, and once bishop of Philadelphia. He was born in Bohemia, and travelled to the United States in order to be ordained a priest. Like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, he is known for his tremendous work building up the Catholic school system in the States.

St. John Neumann was determined to serve God and the people of God. When refused ordination in his native Bohemia, he petitioned bishops around Europe, before finally being accepted by the bishop of New York. He left home behind, came to the states and served humbly.

This same humble and dedicated service in the name of love defines Merry’s relationship with Theoden. It is service of the purest kind, which though not always joyful or easy, they delight in because of that love. Over the years, I’ve come to cherish a single line in all The Lord of the Rings:

“Sometimes where the way was broader he had ridden at the king’s side, not noticing that many of the Riders smiled to see the two together: the hobbit on his little shaggy grey pony, and the Lord of Rohan on his great white horse.” (LotR 775)

There are endless choices of material befitting the season from among Tolkien’s works. There are many I would have liked to include, but did not suit the feast as well. So as additional reading for the season, if you choose not to read the novel(s) entire, I highly recommend in particular: ‘Ainulindalë’, ‘The King of the Golden Hall’, and ‘Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth’

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

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In Review: Rob Inglis reads The Hobbit

The Hobbit, audio book by Rob Inglis I have a slight prejudice against audio books because, like movies, they can be used as a replacement to the book.  It is in some ways unavoidable given the convenience of the audio book, both because it frees you up to do other things as well as allowing “shallow” listening.

And so, I approached The Hobbit audio book with some trepidation.  I did not want to replace the experience of reading the book, or encourage myself to be a passive listener.  Even with these misgivings, I decided to take the plunge.

And I must say, it was a great decision!

I whole-heartedly recommend listening to The Hobbit!  This was an experience I will never forget and look forward to repeating.  The reason why is simple.  The Hobbit began on the back of an examination booklet Tolkien was grading, we all know that.  But ultimately, the birth of the tale was oral in nature: bedtime stories Tolkein told his children.  This accounts for the childlike tone of the story…but also accounts, I believe, for the nature of the prose.

Listening to The Hobbit felt like experiencing the book as it is meant to be.  Reading the book, it is almost impossible to grasp the oral and conversational quality of the prose.  Being that The Hobbit is Bilbo’s own diary, this mode makes sense.  All the asides, all the conversational exposition fit like a glove, once told aloud.  It is almost like listening to Bilbo himself, and I could begin to see how he may color events and interpret things in different ways, not always actually true.

I think listening to The Hobbit allows you to approach it from a different angle, and see things you wouldn’t in words on paper.  However, after this experience, I look forward to reading the book again, in hopes that this time, primed with this knowledge, I will see Bilbo shine through.  I have never truly been able to approach The Hobbit as a diary, I know it is supposed to be, but it never quite clicked.  But presented orally, it is as if Bilbo has invited you over for tea for a long yarn.

Escaping the same old Question

I’ve written about the Old Forest, Old Man Willow and Tom Bombadil on many occasions in an attempt to shed some light on their purpose in the narrative.  However, this is a mystery that will most likely never be answered satisfactorily, so I tried to shift my focus as I reread “The Old Forest” today.  I saw some new things, but the funny thing is I always ended up thinking how this or that truly helps the story. 

My first impression of the Old Forest was very surreal, and downright creepy.  With this chapter, the reader is almost immediately confronted by strangeness, and Tolkien’s imagery here, though a bit on the disturbing side, is very effective.  The journey doesn’t start auspisciously, “Soon they were riding off into the mist, which seemed to open reluctantly before them and close forbiddingly behind…”  Not a happy way the start a day is it?  And it only gets worse.  The tunnel through the High Hay is “dark and damp” with a gate of iron bars.  There’s a certain ring of finality and dread the entire passage of the hobbits’ leave-taking of the Shire in the closing of that gate.

And then there’s Merry’s description.  Granted there is description and imagery as the hobbits traverse the forest, but I found this one paragraph the most powerful and evocative:

“But the Forest is queer.  Everything in it is very much more alive, more aware of what is going on, so to speak, than things are in the Shire.  And the trees do not like strangers.  They watch you.  They are usually content usually to watch you, as long as daylight lasts, and don’t do much.  Occasionally the most unfriendly ones may drop a brand, or stick a root out, or grasp at you with a long trailer.  But at night things can be more alarming, or so I am told.  I have only once or twice been in here after dark, and then only near the hedge.  I thought all the trees were whispering and the branches swayed and groped without any wind.  They do say the trees do actually move, and can surround strangers and hem them in.  In fact long ago they attacked the Hedge: they came and planted themselves right by it, and leaned over it…” (FotR p108)

There is just something so otherworldly about this entire chapter which is so well captured in this one passage.  We go from the peace and natural beauty into this place where nature becomes dark and gloomy…and downright crafty.  It is a shock, immediate and brutal.  And in some ways begs the question: how are we to stomach this? 

Well, we aren’t dropped in completely unawares.  There were hints dropped in Sam and Ted’s conversation earlier in the book of walking trees.  And there is the hobbits’ complete lack of knowledge of the outside world to consider.  But in the end, I was most drawn to the foreshadowing of this chapter.  It is full of references immediately recognizable to re-readers who keep an eye out.  I don’t know how well the ents and the huorns were established in Tolkien’s thought at this time, but it would appear that in the Old Forest we get our first glimpse of their development, at least in how they pertain to Middle Earth during the Third Age.  This whole scenario runs parallel with the entry to Fangorn and the meeting of Treebeard; and shows great similarities with the huorns and the “dark” places of Fangorn.  Treebeard’s lament about the ents was ever on my mind reading this chapter: that many ents had become too sleepy and so like trees and many trees too awake like ents. 

To return to my discussion of imagery, as the chapter continues, the descriptions become gradually darker and more threatening.  Yet the forest has some tricks up its sleeve (or should I say branch).  Notice the transition in tone from the forest to the Withywindle River valley.  Suddenly there is color, openness, peace.  Or so it seems.  I hadn’t picked up on this before, its subtle, but upon rereading this shift becomes loaded with meaning. 

By this false sense of the security the Hobbits are lulled to a stop, to sleep against a hoary old tree.  Only to be hurled in the water, or sucked into it’s shadowy depths.  And even then there is a sense of calm and lassitude, for the hobbits, besides Sam, remain asleep throughout.  This only heightens the strangeness and horror of the event. 

The strangeness also acts as a barrier, however.  It makes the entire adventure hard to believe and out of this world.  And so I never found this threat to the hobbits to be overly threatening, but rather miner.  The barrow wights to come were always more successful.  Upon this reread, I felt an almost palpable sense of relief at the entry of Tom Bombadil.  Not for his role in saving the hobbits, but for his apparent normalcy.  He is a return, more or less, to the sort of person we know.  He is there the draw us out of this surreal nightmare which is the Old Forest. 

And so I’ve returned to question that has haunted so many who read The Lord of the Rings: why the Old Forest, why Old Man Willow, why Tom Bombadil? 

We are used to our world and its close shadow, which is the Shire.  But at the High Hay we enter with tentative steps more firmly into the secondary world of Tolkien’s creation.  We are thrust straight into the strangeness of it; not necessarily with the expectation of our belief in this moment but with thoughts turned towards our future belief.  Have you ever noticed that to a certain degree everything that follows is easier to swallow after the Old Forest?  I hadn’t, but I think that’s part of the point.  By placing this den of strangeness right at the start of his tale, I believe Tolkien has found a way to aid his readers in believing his tale. It is an abrupt wake up call to all readers: we are far from home.

Why Wait?

Why does Frodo wait so long to leave the Shire?  He learns of the nature and dangers of the Ring in April, yet he waits until September 23rd to begin his journey.  The reader must wonder, “Why wait?”

You must remember the nature of hobbits: they love comfort and all things that grow.  Even Frodo states this reason.  When Fall comes, and nature fades the desire to travel comes upon him. 

There is also the skepticism of the hobbits to consider, which I have already discussed in “Shadows of the Truth.”  For a person who finds it hard to accept new information and believe in anything beyond the bubble of their own civilization, how would the revelation of the Ring sound?  It would seem utter maddness.  Think on this.  How would you react if you discovered some family heirloom was dangerous or must be destroyed or relinquished in order to save or help others.  Would you do it?  Or would you, like Frodo, put it off for as long as you could?  It is human, and in effect hobbit, nature to do so.  If something is beatiful, or pleasurable or in any way rewarding it is difficult and traumatic to be forced to give it up.  This is the danger and allure of the material world.

Finally, we have the Ring to consider. 

Frodo’s plan to leave the Shire by way of Buckland is not fully formed until mid-summer.  Remember the nature of the Ring’s power as proposed in the early drafts: it works through the wearer’s longings.  Could it be the Ring manipulates Frodo’s desire to remain in the Shire to keep him from leaving?  This hypothesis works under the suposition that the Ring is sentient, and in some way aware of the approaching Ringwraiths.  Yet if this were true, wouldn’t it have kept him there longer?  Even a day more and the wraiths would have found him. 

Why does Frodo wait?  There can be no conclusive answer.  Yet it would appear the reasons are out of fear and reluctance to leave home.  So who can blame him?  Who does not cling to life and happiness and peace when they know it is soon to be lost?

Try Me: The melding of two Worlds

Turin Hurinson asked “What do you make of how the Lord of the Rings is a combination of originally separate worlds of the Hobbit and the Silmarillion? I love Tolkien’s works.  Is it conceivable that he would have been better off keeping them separate, and if not, why was it good that he combined them? It’s true we wouldn’t have LotR if he hadn’t, but I’m sure we would have had something equally impressive set only in the Hobbit world or (more likely) in Beleriand.”

First to start with fact.  I don’t have my copy of The Hobbit with me, so I’ll have to wing it a bit 😉

While in the trenches in France and while recovering in the field hospital during WWI, Tolkien began to write what would become the Quenta Silmarillion.  It was always the work of his heart.  He struggled with it, writing and rewriting it unceasingly throughout his life.  To see its hold on him, one has only to look at his epitaph.  His life, his tales, are one.  The question becomes, then, how could he possibly keep The Hobbit, and subsequently The Lord of the Rings, out of the world of the Silmarillion?

But there is also a flaw in the original question.  The Hobbit is most definitely not in its own isolated world.  It hangs in the balance between the new and the world of Tolkien’s heart.  Granted Hobbits and the Shire are not of Middle Earth, they are more akin to England, but somehow they found their way into the ongoing tale of the Silmarillion.  The Hobbit, in many ways, can be seen as Tolkien’s attempt to reconcile modern English society with Middle Earth.  What would happen if a bourgeois Englishman were suddenly dropped into Middle Earth?  This is the essential question of The Hobbit, and hobbits themselves.  Using the anacronism of hobbit-culture and medieval Middle Earth creates humor as well as a point of familiarity for the reader.  It also sets up an interesting new hero-type; one who is just like us. 

This may be the starting point of The Hobbit, but it still does not touch upon the world it came to inhabit.  Were they ever truly separate?  Possibly.  At least in the beginning.  Yet already Tolkien’s great tale had its hold on him.  It would come to take a larger and deeper role in his writings as he wrote.  With The Hobbit, we begin to see the first shadows of a distant mythical past of Gondolin, High Elves and “Goblin” wars.  To use Tom Shippey’s terminology, it is the first instance of “interlacement.”  The story of Bilbo begins to weave itself into a wider and grimmer one.  This becomes fully developed in The Lord of the Rings. 

Is it a good thing that hobbits found their way into Middle Earth?  As a literary element, yes, but who’s really interested in that?…except maybe the critics and literary intelligencia.  What do the hobbits do for Middle Earth? 

It is important to recall that the Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were meant to create a new mythology for England.  They are a type of pre-history.  Hobbits are a bridge in that history; between elves and men.  Hobbits are still “mythical.”  They have comparatively long lives.  They can hide unseen and move silently.  They are very practical, full of hobbit-sense.  They act as the transition from the world of Elves to the world of Men.  Yet, even that is a literary device…so what really do the hobbits bring to Middle Earth?

I would have to say, most importantly, the hobbits bring innocence back to Middle Earth.  After the War of the Jewels, the Domination of Sauron and the Fall of Numenor, what innocence is left in the world?  What happiness, untainted by loss, yearning and regret?  Hobbits are the bastion of innocence.  One could even say they are far too innocent. 

In the end, I believe it would have been impossible for Tolkien to avoid the melding of these two worlds.  And looking at the results, I don’t think it could have worked any other way.  Elves and Men needed the innocence of Hobbits, just as the Hobbits needed the sorrow and strength of Men and Elves to ground them.