I recently indulged in a Lord of the Rings movie marathon. Way easier than running a marathon, let me tell you. And bonus: during a movie marathon I fuel up with pizza and ice cream--way tastier than goo.
I love those stories. Love! I’ve read the books 4 times now, and I’m hankering for a 5th soon. I even named my daughter with a nod to an elven flower that grows in Lothlorien (the heart of the elven kingdom in Middle Earth, duh). And when Gene and I were young and in love, I fancied myself Samwise Gamgee to his Frodo. So, obviously, I’m an LOTR dork.
Gene was enjoying the movie marathon too, and using it as an opportunity to introduce our son to epic heroism. I noticed Gene would call him over to watch mighty battles and fierce clashes of good versus evil. Of course, the little guy’s just six, and he frequently wandered from the room to act out his own battles off screen. So I was able to observe the moments Gene most wanted him to pay attention to, not to miss...moments of bravery and purity of heart in the midst of the bedlam of war. When deadly foes vastly outnumbered the fellowship of heroes, Gene would make sure our little guy watched them stand strong. I love the man my husband is and the man he wants our son to become.
But for me, quieter moments thrilled me most. I wanted Soren to notice that Sam didn’t let Frodo go forward alone, and Merry and Pippin pledged their small bodies and large hearts in allegiance to people not their own, and that Gollum could choose, if only for a time, to be Smeagol again. And my favorite line comes after the climax, when two little hobbits have given all they have to give: “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things.”
I love hobbits! I love that they celebrate ease and welcome simple pleasures. I love that their statures and their dreams are never outsized. I love that you never see them coming, never expect them to be the hub that the whole world turns upon. I love hobbits because I believe they tell us the truth about ourselves. A king can be kingly, a warrior can win, but those short, fat, unaspiring halflings are the crux of happy endings.
That’s us, you see. I’m a hobbit. I’m a little person, and there is just one of me. What in the world can I do? How in the world can I matter? But I believe that each of us, small and insignificant, changes the course of the story. In quiet, unseen moments, when I manage a spark of bravery and purity of heart, I may just save the world.
Tolkien writes about “eucatastrophe,” the catastrophic event that holds the only kernel of hope for a happy ending. He says it is, “a sudden and miraculous grace never counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure; the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”
I live eucatastrophes regularly, tiny struggles for a happy ending. Running a marathon, or a half marathon, or a friggin’ mile if that’s all I can manage, is a miniature eucatastrophe. And not yelling at my kiddos when they spill their juice, but kissing their frightened faces and saying, “It’s no problem.” And sitting on the couch with my husband, or making him a sandwich, or saying “I love you” even when we disagree about something. And tutoring women for a measly evening each week. And sending a check. And saying a prayer. This is my epic heroism.
And I love that I have something in common with the hobbits. No one expects those little guys to count, let alone matter most, but they do. And no one expects a middle-aged, chubby housewife to run 26+ miles. But I do. I wonder what that means, in the scope of things. Like Tolkien, I marvel at the unexpected impact of little achievements, the essential nature of unseen gifts. No surprise there...I believe in a dying savior, a servant king. I guess it’s the same thread throughout: hope. In a happy ending we can’t manage ourselves. Maybe, thanks to a catastrophe we couldn’t see coming, we arrive at “the end of all things” not entirely alone.
“Dear Sir,” I said--Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned.
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light,
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons-- ‘twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed;
we make still by the law in which we’re made.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien “On Faerie Stories”