Friday, December 21, 2012

The Relevance of The Hobbit Today - Review (Part III)

I saw the film the day of the tragedy in Connecticut. With that on my mind, there was one line in particular that spoke to me out of the film. It does not represent, I think, current conventional thinking in America, certainly not among the ruling elite. Gandalf says to Galadriel, "Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love." In my heart, my thoughts turned to the Adam Lanza's of the world. No power of man can prevent what the insane (either physically or morally) of this world will decide to do. But perhaps small acts of kindness and love, when they start to add up, can disarm even the angriest rage or the most terrible hate. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. He said blessed are the meek. In a world where people actually followed these teachings, would even the mentally ill feel so alone and unloved that they would need to tear down the fabric of society to attempt to ease their pain? I don't think we can ever truly know the answer, as evil will always be at the door, attempting to inflict more pain where there is none. But the thought, at least as I sat there watching the film, gave me hope.

Another, perhaps more controversial, aspect of this story, has to do with the dwarves as (rather obvious, I thought) stand-ins for the Jewish people, exiled from their homeland for generations. When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, there was no State of Israel. The homeland of the Jews had long been ruled by other nations, and Tolkien, with his Western European education, would have most likely often thought back to the Crusades when thinking of the sort of ancient warlike situations he dealt with. The modern, shall we say, egalitarian view of the Crusades did not yet exist in England in the 1930s. It is quite possible that Tolkien thought of "Sarrasins" in "Orcish" terms. The film gives this even more weight, with talk of "others" going back to seize their homeland if they do not hurry. In Tolkien's day, after the First World War, the Middle East was being continually divided up by the western powers, with little thought being given either to the Jews or to the local inhabitants until 1945, long after The Hobbit's publication. So this story, in an odd way, is perhaps Tolkien's own little fantasy of how a very British person (for Bilbo is very mid-century British) could have potentially helped a group of nomadic Jews setting out to reclaim their ancient homeland. It's the very sort of mythic, Homer-esque (no, not Simpson) epic that Tolkien himself was drawn to, and writers often attempt to aspire to what they love.

Bilbo's eventual realization that he should help these dwarves simply because he can; because he possesses something they do not, is precisely the sort of "love thy neighbor" idea that no one really practices anymore, and thus is not considered "realistic." Our movie heroes must have some pragmatic goal in mind; Batman must be a "symbol" to inspire, because simply saving a couple people on his own really won't change much in the overall scheme of things. Superman must be darker and edgier, because a man who simply flies around saving cats and stopping bank robbers really isn't that interesting anymore. So, in this sense, Bilbo is now the ultimate "anti"-hero. I, for one, think we need more such "anti"-heroes, who are capable of committing acts of kindness, and love, for no good reason at all.

Jump back to Part I, or Part II - An Unexpected Pleasure.

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