It’s the New Year, and that means everyone is either psyching themselves up to try to make themselves better people, or busy telling everyone they can find that New Year’s Resolutions are pointless. Sure there is some middle-ground in there somewhere, but it’s pretty slim. For me, my hope is to become more content with where I am in life, and quit looking to the next step.
One thing that is becoming more and more common in our society is something called “status anxiety.” Status anxiety is fear of being less-than because others around you have more. I definitely see this trait in myself, and I am working hard to fix it. After reading a few books on the subject, I became bored with the droll, nonfiction accounts of status anxiety and began my semiannual reading of The Lord of the Rings. It’s funny how different mindsets play in to one’s interpretation of what they are reading. While reading the introduction there exists an almost total antithesis of status anxiety in the story’s lore. Sometimes the best advice we can find is that found in the stories we love. I find that pop culture, in general, allows us to explore different ideals with more clarity than most give it credit.
Now, obviously there is a strong sense of epic mythological adventure in The Lord of the Rings – there is a reason that it is one of the most popular fantasy series out there – but I want to look at something a little smaller in scope — both literally and metaphorically. For today’s article I’d like to look at how the simplistic lifestyle of the Hobbits might help inform us on how better to live our lives, especially in the always-connected, hectic lifestyle in which most of us find ourselves.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” ~ The Hobbit
Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings center on the adventures of Bilbo and his nephew Frodo, and through these books we can get several glimpses of Hobbit culture. Outside of a few notable outliers, two of which were just mentioned, the Shire-folk tend to value the simple things — good stories, good food, and good friends top the list — while more adventurous endeavors and loud behavior are generally frowned upon. Really, besides the Sacksville-Bagginses, we see very little covetous behavior in Hobbit culture. In fact, it appears that their lack of status anxiety is the key reason Frodo was so resilient to the pull of the One Ring. Sméagol immediately covets the Ring, going so far as to kill his good friend to obtain it, and then spend the entire story trying to rebooting his precious, where Frodo’s immediate reaction is to reject the Ring and give it to Gandalf. “The excesses of Hobbits,” David Day notes in Tolkien: a Dictionary, “were limited to dressing in bright colours and consuming six substantial meals a day.” In fact, it appears that Hobbits that preferred to wealth above all us are generally considered assholes — looking at you, Sacksville-Bagginses.
“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ~ The Hobbit
There also exists in Tolkien’s tales a sense of technophobia, meaning that the heroes often work in concert with nature, while the villains use more advanced technology to destroy nature and to create twisted versions of natural things; Orcs, for example, are thought to have once been Elves that were twisted into unnatural, evil creatures by Melkor, the villain of The Silmarillion and Sauron’s master. We see a stark difference between the lively Shire with the fire and destruction of Mordor and Isengard.
Full disclosure, it would be hypocritical of me to say that I am a technophobe – after all, I am writing this on a laptop listening to Pandora on an Xbox One – but in a culture in which we can be continually connected to everything everywhere, maybe we could use a chance to unplug occasionally. The Hobbits frequently go on long walks, enjoy good books, and like few things more than a good meal, a good beer, and a table of friends. It’s a running, albeit irritating and ironic, trend on social media to portray society (especially millennials) as completely absorbed in our devices. I wouldn’t go so far as to say completely absorbed, but I know that I am guilty of checking my News Feed or reading articles when I could be enjoying the company I find myself with.
One of the most pervasive examples of Hobbit culture throughout The Lord of the Rings is that of Mr. Samwise Gamgee (who we’ve already argued is the true hero of The Lord of the Rings). His loyalty to his friends is the only reason he leaves the Shire, and the whole time he’s gone he looks forward to being home. Even after seeing the splendor of Rivendell and Lothlórien, Sam dreams of a simple life in the Shire. This shows that one can appreciate the courage and goodness found in epic stories, even to the point where it stymies one’s own courage to face unexpected fears (like Shelob, spider-child of Ungoliant), but still find the joy in time spent with good food, beer, and friends.