Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Innocence of Hobbits

Frodo, Sam and Gollum’s journey to Mount Doom was definitely one of the most courageous expeditions taken, even more so since it was completed by two hobbits and a hobbit-like creature. In class we discussed why it was so important that two hobbits complete this journey and save all of Middle Earth from this evil force, and we came to the conclusion that the hobbits were much too independent from Middle Earth, that their decisions to stay in the Shire put them in a bad place with the rest of the creatures of Middle Earth. Rather than trying to communicate with other species, they chose comfort and safety in the Shire. Although it can be argued that hobbits could definitely used more adventure in their lives, I disagree that it is their fault they are so isolated. Their characteristic nature should not be chastised, “for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skillful with tools. Even in ancient days they were, as a rule, shy of 'the Big Folk', as they call us, and now they avoid us with dismay and are becoming hard to find,” (The Lord of the Rings, 1). In fact, the only character who is not a hobbit that we see befriend hobbits, or try to interact with hobbits, in The Lord of the Rings is Gandalf the Grey. He may not be trusted by some, but the hobbit-children love him, and when he arrives in the Shire for Bilbo’s party they shouted “G for grand!” and followed along as he rode in his cart (The Lord of the Rings, 25). Obviously, the children sense no danger in Gandalf and are not trying to hide from him. So why is Frodo the one to bring the ring to Mount Doom if the argument is that he is to create a community between the species of Middle Earth? I think it is important to remember that until this point, Hobbits had no part in Sauron’s rise to power. It is no fault of theirs that Middle Earth was under siege. I think that the hobbits’ innocence in all this is what led Frodo to be chose to carry the ring making his heroic actions all the more sacrificial. 
In Splintered Light, Flieger makes the observation that change is necessary for growth and production and change is also tied with language; one cannot exist without the other. She states, “Without communication there can be no community. Without community there can be no sense of communion,” (Flieger, 168). In class we discussed all the similarities between prayers and psalms with Tolkien’s writings. As someone who did attend Church growing up, I thought back to the prayers said before Communion during a church service, and noted that the prayers are in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice to atone fro the sins of others. I’m not saying that Frodo is a parallel for Jesus, but I do want to acknowledge the similar sacrifice they underwent. In fact, the only strong point for an argument connecting Frodo and Jesus is the sacrifice they endured. However, Jesus knowingly and willingly was crucified for others sins whereas Frodo was reluctant to carry the ring and the only part of him that was “crucified” was his finger. I think what’s important about Frodo is his innocence prior to his journey. Just as Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God, come to take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), I do not think it would be so implausible to think of Frodo as a lamb as well, in the sense of an innocent creature being sacrificed. As I mentioned earlier, hobbits are extremely innocent creatures that find love in peace and earth, they are hardly warriors or assailants. Their faults lie in gluttonous behavior, such as eating too much and smoking great amounts of pipe weed. Frodo was no different before his journey. He was completely innocent and unaware of what was going on in Middle Earth, yet it is he who bears the ring and all its malice. This is where we find parallels between Frodo and Jesus. Jesus too was innocent at the time of his crucifixion, hence why he is referred to as a lamb. Although lambs are innocent of any terrible deeds, they are often what are sacrificed to the gods, and similarly Frodo and Jesus suffer their own sacrifices to answer for the sins of others. Flieger concludes that to partake in Communion is to be part of a community, “to be in community with God,” (Flieger, 169). So just as Jesus’ sacrifice brought together a community, Frodo’s reluctant sacrifice helped to united Middle Earth.

Although the hobbits can be described as lazy and gluttonous, I think that’s about as far as their faults go. Their antisocial characteristics can hardly be the cause of a disconnected Middle Earth community. Even though the men, elves, dwarves, and other creatures of Middle Earth have not done anything to cause Sauron’s rise to power, it is they who Sauron attempts to dominate Middle Earth. The hobbits are left to themselves. However, the fact that hobbits are so innocent of anything malicious is important to Frodo’s role as ring bearer. His guiltlessness in the apparent downward spiral of Middle Earth during Sauron’s conquers makes his journey to Mount Doom much more sacrificial than if it was a man or elf bringing the ring to Mount Doom.

E. Quintero

8 comments:

  1. I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you. I think it’s entirely the hobbit’s fault that they choose to remain isolated. Not to diminish the character of our four beloved hobbits, but if Pippin, Merry, and Sam can integrate themselves with the world, then so can any halfling. Even after Bilbo returned with a dozen seemingly unbelievable tales of the rest of the world (and not to mention more gold than he could spend in his entire life), the hobbits were still wary of the outside and of outsiders, easily deeming Bilbo as a crazy old badger. Trying to defend a lifestyle like that is like trying to defend the reclusiveness of the Kim Dynasty in North Korea. That being said, you do make an excellent point concerning the differences between Frodo and Jesus. I must say I never say many parallels between the two of them - I always say more of Jesus in a character like Gandalf or Sam (who I believe sacrificed more for Frodo and was less reluctant than his master).
    -LMM

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    1. I definately agree with what you are saying, but it isn't quite so clear-cut. There are plenty of close-minded, willfully ignorant hobbits, but there are plenty who don't dismiss Bilbo. The conversations between the Gamgees and the Sandymans illustrates this pretty well- the Sandyman family is skeptical, but Sam is curious about the outside world and hungry for knowledge, and the Gaffer defends Bilbo- he says that if Bilbo is "being queer, then we could do with a bit more queerness in these parts." The Brandybucks and Tooks do plenty of exploration, and have very little of this. The hobbits as a whole are contented more than closeminded, and I have a hard time seeing that as a sin that requires atonement. Certainly they are a far cry from North Korea.

      -Will Adkisson

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  2. I am also somewhat uncomfortable with assigning blame to the lifestyle of the hobbits, and I agree that the comfort and safety of the Shire adds to the sacrificial nature of the quest. However, I think it's important to consider that not all hobbits have the same degree of willful ignorance of Middle Earth. As a prominent example, the Took line is considered more adventurous than other hobbit families. It's useful to consider the journey as the initiation of the hobbits into the greater community, but I don't think we should forget that the journey was undertaken by exceptional individuals, and therefore the loss-of-innocence does not necessarily apply to all of hobbit-kind.

    I also appreciate the parallels you draw between Frodo and Jesus, especially with regards to sacrifice, however I also appreciate that you don't go so far as to say that this sacrifice provides the resolution to the isolation problem of the hobbits, but rather the unification of Middle Earth against evil forces.

    -STowey

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  3. I have difficulty with such a parallelism between Frodo and Jesus. The unification of the peoples of Middle Earth-the various clans of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Men-do not result from the "sacrifice" of Frodo, but rather from a threat from a common enemy, and the connections that these peoples made with each other as part of the Fellowship. Yes, the Fellowship was created to help carry out the task that Frodo had undertaken, but most of significant acts of "unity" take place when Frodo is out of the picture, off in Mordor. The friendship of Gimli and Legolas does much to restore the ties between the elves and dwarves. The actions of Pippin and Merry along with the Ents help bring down Saruman, and go a long way towards bringing the Hobbits into the rest of the world. It's not so much any "sacrifice" as the shared journey that helps bring them together.

    -NRossum

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  4. In the context of your post, it's interesting to think about the fact that the Shire lies within a fallen kingdom, one without a rightful king. Might the Hobbits's failure stem from the larger failure of the good management in Arnor? In this sense we can almost see them as "collateral damage" in the fall of that once-great kingdom. If we look at it this way, how might we see the faults of the Hobbits? do they similarly stem from a lack of governance? It might be interesting to think of the role of Sam as gardener and the best of the hobbits, in this manner.

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  5. What I've always found so remarkable about hobbits is that "no hobbit has ever killed another on purpose in the Shire." I think that is something that shows a true innocence distinct from all other races of Middle-Earth. They may be somewhat blameworthy for willful ignorance of the rest of the world, but the fact that they have managed to avoid one of the greatest sins while they remain among their own kind, a sin which every other community has committed, is quite special. When the outside world is full of creatures killing each other, within each race and between races, is it so difficult to believe that hobbits would rather remain in their own utopia? They might not even think that they would be of much help, as the hobbits of Lord of the Rings often doubt their abilities compared to great lords who have trained their entire lives. They prove that they are indeed capable, and manage to make it through the Scouring of the Shire with a clean record for hobbit-hobbit murder, and I for one certainly hope that this defining attribute stays with them as they branch out into Middle-earth. There is the danger of being corrupted by outside influences, as "it's a dangerous business...going out your door," but perhaps hobbits will be able to have a positive influence on the rest of Middle-earth and make their distinguishing feature a little less unique.

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  6. You raise some interesting parallels between the sacrificial natures of Jesus and Frodo, but I still can't help but feel mildly uncomfortable with this comparison. Unlike Jesus's sacrifice, Frodo's was not singular - a point that NRossum articulates well in the comment above mine. The entire Fellowship contributed and sacrificed along their journey. Yes, Frodo did volunteer to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the ring, but it was a small community that supported him on his journey; I would even go as far to say that Sam's willingness to self-sacrifice made him more of a sacrificial lamb-type than Frodo.
    This then gets to your point about Frodo creating community and communion within Middle Earth, and his sacrifice as the beginning of integrating hobbits into the larger community of Middle Earth – I would disagree that this was the goal of the Fellowship; the intent was to unite and come together due to the threat of destruction. And while perhaps a greater sense of community was created after the ring was destroyed and the battles were won, let us not forget that Frodo, Bilbo, and many of the Elves eventually sailed west and left Middle Earth behind.
    - KGibbons

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  7. Wow-all the feels!
    About Hobbits’ isolation: yes, they can control it. Merry and Pippin are for me primarily expressions of the idea that anyone can go out and integrate themselves into the struggles of the world and make a difference. Nevertheless, I don’t really agree with the idea that this somehow implies--or that it's inherently implied--that Hobbits as a whole have to atone for their disconnection (even though this was strongly suggested in class!). Rather, I see the efforts of hobbits as voluntarily given out of love—Frodo for the Shire, Sam for Frodo, Merry for his friends but also for Theoden, and Pippin for his friends and also in memory of Boromir.
    I think this also defends the parallel between Frodo and Jesus to some extent, though I certainly wouldn’t deny that Gandalf or Sam also come across as Christ-figures (Gandalfs return and Sam’s actual selflessness are hard to beat). On Frodo’s side, he is very literally bearing the burden of sin! Also, as a side note, Frodo may not have united Middle Earth as a part of his sacrifice, but neither did Jesus cause an immediate political union as a part of his.

    -H. A. K. Stone

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