To take reality, crumple it up into a ball, and let it fly into time and space – that’s the appeal of a fantasy world.
It was “Magic Tree House”. It was “The Wishing Chair”. It was “Ella Enchanted”. It was “Harry Potter”. Recently, it has been “Game of Thrones”. And the past few years, it has also been “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”.
When I first read “The Hobbit” I was in my freshman year of high school, a year full of hormones, changes, and discovering a new reality. “The Hobbit” spoke to me then of the importance of friendship and brotherhood and strong relationships; it spoke of resilience and adventure; it created a bubble of a world of seedcakes and magic rings and wizards. “The Hobbit” crafted a space for my achingly adventurous side to leap unbounded across the physical conformities of my circumstances and fall into a world so artfully and meticulously constructed. I fell into a sense of deep time in Middle Earth, tearing through pages of the never-ending story of Bilbo Baggins. I didn’t have the words to say it at the time, but Bilbo was more “me” than I was (thanks, Prof. Kaplan). He was everything I was and everything I wanted to be. He was a short and hungry little hobbit with a kind heart and a little doubt of the world, but he burned a fire inside of him that was audacious and uncontainable. I wanted to be like him, I wanted to be in the Shire, I wanted to give the Arkenstone away with nobility and ends wars. Bilbo Baggins took the high road. I would take the high road. Bilbo Baggins tamed the world at, what, 5’2” with little to no athleticism. Sign me up for that!
I didn’t read “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, however, until college, when I took a class this past semester called “Tolkien’s Monsters”. The sense of deep time and falling into a better world resurfaced (although this time, I would read and then go to class and talk about racist and sexist ideas in the trilogy. Not good! But you can love things and still be aware, so I’ll move on). But finishing “Lord of the Rings” left a deep ache in my heart, a little like the feeling I felt moving away from my best friend from high school. At the same time, I still think there is more of Middle Earth for me to feel and see. (“The Silmarillion” is up next!). Not just because there’s that book left. But because that’s what J.R.R. Tolkien did. He created an illusion of an undying Middle Earth. Although we know it does go away eventually, it is rich and undying in its history and complexity.
The trilogy represents the finer things in life. The fellowship of different races – Legolas and Gimli’s evolving relationship is touching and inspiring. The undying will of Samwise Gamgee, the little hobbit who is good all the way through. The awe-inspiring Ents, funny and charming and full of power, the Ents that I envision every time I pass a forest. The ethereal aura of the elves and Rivendell, the play on the classic “beautiful and dangerous” trope with a fresh humanization of elves. Gollum and Smeagol, the physical manifestation of the raging good and evil inside every person. Tolkien created such complexity in his world – such clear portrayals of our struggles, our worries, our fears; our beauty, our potential, our liveliness. He paints a world in which our emotions are displayed more outwardly and we can see our doubt being vanquished and the power of good prevailing.
That isn’t hard to fall into.
At the end of the day, Middle Earth represents to us what we need the world to be (minus the racism and sexism in LoTR, which we’ll get to in another blog). In college, the books served to me as a way to rekindle my youthful imagination, of course, but also as a way to explore idealism once again, to hang on to every piece of hope possible. I was older and could look from a critical eye, but the books still wiped away the world around my, throwing reality into flecks outside of my eyes and pulling my mind into new dimensions of wisdom and possibility. I wasn’t thinking about jobs, or internships, or grades, or boys, or money. I was thinking about how Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam had none of those things. (I mean, Bilbo had some gold, but he hardly used it.) Aragorn had none of those things. Even Gandalf had none of those things. But Middle Earth was a happy place, and remained happy after good prevailed over evil because of devoted and underrated little hobbits. When I finished the books, everything washed away and reality slowly filtered back in, and I was left with the sense that I wanted to do everything I could to transform it.
And that’s the point, I think. To leave ready to transform the world. See, every book is broken down into smaller books with ten chapters. The last book, however, as my professor told us on the last day of class, only has nine chapters, with Frodo telling Sam that the end that his book, too, was left unfinished, and that the last page was for Sam. The last page is just as much for Sam as it is for us.
These were the thoughts running through my mind – and the soundtrack from the movies – as we made our way to Hobbiton in New Zealand, the set of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. I felt that little thing in my heart – that part that swooped down when the trilogy ended – swoop back up when this came into view.
It was the Shire. It was home! It was the home of all homes! I wish I had something deep and insightful to write about this, but I was mostly blinded my sheer excitement and thrill. Standing in the inn, I pretended I was Frodo seeing Gandalf coming through the Shire to meet for an ale (although Gandalf definitely doesn’t have the time for that #Overcommitted). I was LIVING THE DREAM! ACTUALLY IN MIDDLE EARTH! THE FANTASY WORLD OF ALL FANTASY WORLDS WITH THE NEVER-ENDING ILLUSION OF DEEP TIME!
Some other pictures for you to see.
THE BAGGINSES RESIDENCE
Sam’s Hobbit Hole
I was on the verge of tearing up when we left, and I am tearing up a little right now as I write these words, too. Because I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that this is what we are capable of doing. I can’t believe Tolkien created Middle Earth, and I can’t believe Peter Jackson brought it to life this way. I can’t believe what kind of effect LoTR has had on the world.
Because we made it a reality. Well, someone made this a reality – this perfect, read-yourself-into-it, reality-shattering world, this world surpassing time and space, this world that left reality crumpled in a ball and left behind. The fantasy world is real. Which means that it is all real, that it all can be real. The steady and silly Ents and the loyal Samwise Gamgee and the liveliness of Middle Earth – it’s all for our taking. That is, if we choose to create it. For the next book. The next chapter.
The next page.