“One of the candidates [students] had mercifully left one of the pages [for an English literature exam] with no writing on it, which is the best thing that can possibly happen to an examiner, and I wrote on it: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ Names always generate a story in my mind: eventually I thought I better find out what hobbits were like.” J.R.R. Tolkien, quoted in The Annotated Hobbit
Lesson 1: Slow ordinary work often has much more to do with genuine creativity than we think or like to admit. Despite the typical noisy hype about high-speed innovation and creativity these days in education and elsewhere, Tolkien’s slow process better characterizes real creative and innovative work. Tolkien’s first sentence took a lot of time to emerge from lots of ordinary scholarly work and personal reflection. The rest of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings likewise took quite some time and effort.
Lesson 2: There are times when we need to be pushed out of our ordinary comfort zones for our good and the good of others. I’m often tempted to respond just like Bilbo, “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not Today. Good morning!” Ditto for collaborative work. I do think that hobbits tend to be delightfully introverted, and as Susan Cain and others have rightly argued, our noisy world of extroverts needs the insights and experiences of folks with introverted tendencies.
Lesson 3: We need fellowship to help us grow, overcome our blindspots, encourage us, and help ward off evil. Whether our companions are hobbit-like, elf-like, dwarf-like, wizardly, or just ordinary people, we learn much about ourselves and our limits by working together with others. We need someone to give us Samwise Gamgee-esque encouragement when we’re sick of the same old daily problems: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
Lesson 4: Our feelings and desires are often unreliable–or even dangerous–guides to what we think we most need to flourish. Gollum’s transformation from hobbit to a sub-hobbit, ring-obsessed, split-personality says so much about the need to have some higher values to guide and check our desires.
Lesson 5: Our development of living spaces should work with nature rather than against it. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies especially show the stark contrasts between the Shire and forest-friendly sensibilities of hobbits versus the evil-soaked, anti-ecological approaches of Saruman and Sauron.
A best-selling book from the past encouraged us “not to sweat the small stuff,” but hobbits remind us that there is much virtue in taking care of the small stuff as an act of love for our neighbors, our communities, and our living spaces. Happy Hobbit Day!