I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with the girls over the weekend. A life-long fan of Tolkien’s works, I found many things to enjoy about the return to cinematic Middle-Earth (in all its 3D HFR splendor). As a Tolkien purist, however, I had my share of quibbles, too (e.g. Peter Jackson’s blindspot when it comes to the benefits and beauty of brevity–less really can be more, Pete. Trust us.) But such criticism is all too blaise and bears no need of repetition here.
What I’d rather discuss was an odd epiphany that came with this recent viewing of a classic book. Namely: I’m getting old.
You’d think I wouldn’t need Bilbo the hobbit or Gandalf the wizard to help me grasp the mysteries of the obvious. Especially when I have Sarah, the nine-year-old truth-sayer, mentioning to me (almost daily) that I could use some makeup to hide the over-sized carry-ons stuffed below my wrinkly eyes. As I near the beginning of my last year of my thirties, these realities are becoming inevitable–unavoidable. (I can almost hear the post-40 crowd scoff and the under 30s sighing ‘like obviously, man, must suck to be you.’)
This discovery of my impending curmudgeon-hood came around the same time in the movie that Bilbo woke from the raucous evening spent with the Gandalf and the dwarves. As if in a dream, he awakes with their spiraling tales of Misty Mountains stomps, Smaug-dragons spewing fire, and hidden caverns full of goblins and gold filling his memory. In the scene Bilbo’s eyes pop open with a start, he is met with silence and sunlight. He looks up expecting some unpleasant surprise to fall upon him like the lingering leftovers from the night before. Gathering himself he creeps downstairs, peeks around corners, dodges at any chance of making contact with his unexpected guests.
When Bilbo finds that his hobbit-hole is no longer occupied, that it’s completely empty, he revels with obvious relief.
Then as he eases slowly back into the solitary comfort he is accustomed to, a clean kitchen, a tea kettle waiting to be filled, a cushy chair–he begins to re-consider what he has passed up by not signing the contract. In his curving brow, you can almost read Bilbo’s what-if thoughts. He could have had an adventure. The unknown. An opportunity for risk-taking, travel, treasure.
It’s at this precise point of turning when Bilbo decides to go, when he scrambles for the door, when I realized that I was no longer a young man. My gut-level response at that moment was a warning, an emphatic and heartfelt mental reply. It went something like this: “DON’T GO, BILBO!!! DON’T DO IT!!! JUST STAY HOME. BAG END IS SOOOOO NICE…”
I know how it sounds. What kind of kill-joy or wet blanket would pass up the chance to travel the country of Middle-Earth with wizards and dwarves? What fool would choose crumpets and tea over the Arcenstone and battle-scars–a good book over a glowing blade? What kind of (half)man would Bilbo be if he had just stayed in his PJs and read The Shire Sentinel Sunday Edition?
I don’t know. And that’s the point, really. As a younger man there was no hesitation in me. I wanted Bilbo to do exactly what he did: follow those dwarves out the door and on an adventure RIGHT AWAY. No thinking involved–all impulse fueled by spontaneity. I wanted the hobbit to be the burglar he certainly wasn’t. I wanted him to impress the Oakenshields, to slay an orc company, to use the ring to outsmart Gollum. But after having seen this story before–knowing where it goes and what it will cost, I found myself commiserating with Bilbo’s more selfish and hobbity tendencies.
What would happen to second breakfast, I asked, if he went out the door on a whim to chase wizards?
And that library in Bag End, oh wow, it looks so cozy.
Good pipeweed, some stiff Shire ale, a fire in the fireplace and the best books that Buckland can supply. I mean those are the kinds of adventures I long for most days–the sedentary kind. After all, I’ve seen the international departure terminal of the Beijing airport. I’ve witnessed those underground lairs of Tibetan troll bathrooms (fly, you fools!) I’ve had my fill of national and international journeys I suppose. Enough to last a lifetime. (Though my wife may not agree with that statement.)
So, hey, what can I say? I’m just getting older. I like to warm my feet by the fire. I won’t apologize for these home-body impulses. When it comes to “there and back again” the back again part seems the sweeter end of that deal. (Not that I’ll never venture out again. I’m sure I will at some point–but maybe with a little less romance.)
And, overall, from the point of story, I’m glad Bilbo reconsidered–it would have made for a boring movie watching a halfling smoke a pipe and write poetry for two hours.
But you have to admit the Shire does look pretty appealing. If we get to choose our heaven, our eternal home, I’m convinced mine will look oddly similar to Bag End (but hopefully with taller showers.)