WHAT HOBBITS TEACH US, PART 2
by Anne Marie Gazzolo
Just as Bilbo was “chosen and selected” (The Hobbit 26) for his tasks, so are Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. The time at Crickhollow proves Aristotle’s words that friendship is “most indispensable for life.” The revelation of the conspiracy formed to ensure that Frodo does not leave on his own stuns the Ring-bearer. Merry tells his cousin of the fear that he, Pippin, and Sam have of what is ahead but also of their determination to face the peril with Frodo because of their friendship. Ralph C. Wood notes that if Sauron had heard and understood the power wrapped up in these words, “Barad-dûr would have been shaken to its foundations” (Gospel According to Tolkien 127).
Sauron would also find incomprehensible the innocent excitement of his mighty enemies, as the young hobbits dance around Frodo in celebration that their company is indeed welcome. Their fear has not left them, but the joy of being with the one they love overwhelms it. Implacable malice such as Sauron’s cannot understand such happiness; unwavering hate cannot fathom unconditional, sacrificial love; selfishness cannot penetrate the wisdom of selflessness. Love allows us to do amazing, even otherwise impossible, things, and these hobbits excel at love. “You are worth what your heart is worth,” Pope St. John Paul II said. This makes Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin priceless. As the Quest unfolds, the hobbits prove that “a friend is a friend at all times, it is for adversity that a brother is born” (Prov. 17:17).
Frodo’s humble acceptance, first at Bag End and then at the Council of Elrond, to become a vessel through which a higher Power could work shows him the particular reason he was created. He does not know who this Power is, but he belongs to a people who though, as St. Paul says, do not have the law, still keep it as if by instinct, having it written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15). As happens to us if we are open to it, Frodo’s mind may not have understood why he responds the way he does, but his heart and soul do. Love and grace speak there in a language that the mind does not always comprehend, but the heart and soul do. Frodo becomes the suffering servant, a sacrificial lamb. It takes great courage to offer himself up to continue as Ring-bearer, to endure and fight against the rape of his mind and soul, and to suffer these demonic assaults for months in order to fulfill his vocation and carry his cross to Mount Doom. He receives extra grace throughout his life to strengthen and prepare him and the greatest grace in having Sam at his side.
Frodo also shows mercy, compassion, and true caring for Sméagol. He knows what this wretched creature suffers because violation from and addiction to the Ring torments him also. The younger Bearer treats his brother hobbit with a dignity and compassion the being has lacked for centuries. Frodo is careful to call him by his given name and, as God is the one who names, connects Sméagol once more to his Creator. Roger Sale notes, “Sméagol loves the specialness that is Frodo’s care of him” (“Tolkien and Frodo Baggins,” Tolkien and the Critics, 287). The dawning love Frodo receives in return is “the tentative unbelieving response to a caring so unlikely it seems heroic even to the Gollum” (ibid.). Even though the Ring’s corruption has held sway over Sméagol for so long, a little bit of his hobbit nature remains to respond to Frodo, as a flower reacts to sunlight. Though this particular flower is horribly deformed and even pale moonlight is painful to it, it still cannot help but to turn to Frodo’s light. The friendship of Frodo and Sam wonderfully exhibits many of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are outlined by St. Paul as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). But this is perhaps even more moving in the “scarred and beautiful relationship” (“Baggins,” 287) of Frodo and Sméagol. It is within this improbable bond that Bradley J. Birzer observes the “most telling example” (Sanctifying Myth, 59) of the grace that abounds in Middle-earth. Wood notes, “Frodo calls forth Gollum’s best traits by refusing to focus on his worst ones. Tolkien thus echoes what, in his Confessions, St. Augustine says about God’s own love for him: ‘In loving me, You made me lovable’” (Gospel, 132). After hundreds of lonely years, Sméagol returns this care with as much strength as his atrophied goodness can. This most unusual love story also brings to light another grace of baptism. “By charity we are empowered to love others not only as much as we love ourselves. We are enabled to love others more than ourselves; to love others even as Christ has loved us, by suffering and dying on our cross out of love for others; to love others out of love for God constantly, patiently and generously beyond all human power and expectation” (Hardon, “Baptism”).
The crushing physical, mental, and spiritual weight of the Ring enables Frodo to give this care to Sméagol. Indeed, he bears his burden out of love for all the people of Middle-earth. He knows even before he sets out that he will not be able to give up the Ring, but he remains completely set on its destruction, even if that means dying with it. He is spent bit by bit on his journey, poured out like a living sacrifice. His body seems too small for what he has to endure but not so his heart. He gives and gives, even as the Ring tears him apart. He holds onto the shreds of himself, as he pushes past his doubts, terror, despair, exhaustion, starvation, and dehydration. He crawls after his suffering and the weight of his burden is too much for him to do anything else. But in the end – or what appears as the end – he cannot save his world or himself. Salvation comes from an unexpected, unlooked-for source. Had it not been for the pity shown to Gollum by many, the Shadow could have covered all the land.
The journeys of Frodo, Sam, and all those who fought for the Light are our own. Like the vast majority of us, Frodo does not fight in combat as do the soldiers of Rohan and Gondor. Like each one of us, his battlefield is in his own mind, heart, and soul. The spiritual warfare that he continually engages in is the same that we must fight on a battleground that we cannot leave until death takes us from it. This knowledge is not meant to discourage us or cause us to despair but to give us patience and strength to endure the battles and win the war. Each one of us is a Ring-bearer of one kind or another in our struggle with fears, troubles, and addictions. We do hateful, hurtful things to those we should love the most. We sometimes give into the seductive call of temptation or anger. We desire things that we know are bad for us and will hurt us or others. Perhaps we try to pull away from them but still want them and cannot part from them without the strength of will to humbly ask for God’s assistance. Tolkien, the master storyteller, received and used inspiration from the Writer of the Story Himself to have his tales resound with such truth.
As we watch Frodo’s struggle, we see that some times we overcome our temptations, and at other times they overcome us. But like him, each time we can get back up after we fall and start the struggle anew. We can walk away from the alcohol, drugs, slot machines, pornography, toxic relationships, or whatever poisons us. We can say no to hate and anger and the hurt and violence it causes. We can choose another path. We may fail many times, but we will succeed in the end if we are open to receive and respond to the grace available to us.
Birzer, Bradley J. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003.
Hardon, John A., S.J. “Baptism, the Sacrament of Regeneration and the Supernatural Life.” http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Sacraments/Sacraments_008.htm
The Jerusalem Bible Reader’s Edition. Gen. ed. Alexander Jones. Garden City, NY: Doubleday,
1966, 1967, 1968.
Sale, Roger. “Tolkien and Frodo Baggins.” Ed. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo. Tolkien and the Critics: Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968: 247-288.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. Illustrated by Jemina Caitlin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.
———. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton
———. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965-66.
Wood, Ralph C. The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth. Louisville, KY: Knox, 2003.
Anne Marie Gazzolo is the author of Moments of Grace and Spiritual Warfare in The Lord of the Rings (WestBow Press, 2012), where some of this essay comes from. To order the book, please visit http://www.ow.ly/ez2dT. Sign up for her mailing list at http://www.annemariegazzolo.com/ and get a free copy of the ebook, Pathways Through Middle-earth: A Guide for the Heart, which contains more lessons on how to apply to your life what Hobbits, Wizards, Elves, Men, and Dwarves teach. Find her also at http://www.facebook.com/annemariegazzolo and http://www.pinterest.com/authorannemarie.