Fantasy Friday – Of Hobbits and Heroes

I don’t know what it is about December, but the last few years, when the days shorten and Christmas lights dot most city blocks, I’ve had this strong desire to read Tolkien. What is it about the Shire, what do those self-absorbed, greedy little hobbits have, other than hairy feet?

It struck me as I was answering a comment Mark left to the Macho Men and Kindness post, that heroism is not necessarily the Great Thing, such as Superman turning back the world to prevent widespread calamity. More often it seems that a hero becomes a true hero when he intervenes on the everyday level.

Readers fell in love with Bilbo Baggins long before he entered the dragon’s lair. And readers loved him as much for his hesitancy to go on a journey and his love for second breakfast, for a good pipe, for a comfortable spot in front of his own hearth as for his quick wit and commitment to his fellow travelers.

So here’s what I’m thinking. Heroes who are ordinary, at least on the outside, might be the most engaging. Would Superman be someone we would love if he didn’t present to the rest of the world as Clark Kent?

Let me turn a corner and extrapolate from some thoughts posted by blogger Khanya in Hobbits, Heroes, and Jesus – TGIF . First she brought up somehing G.K. Chesterton said:

fairy stories are not about extraordinary people, they are about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.

This coincides with the concept she refers to earlier, that “most myths have a big story and a little story.”

The big story is Frodo saving Middle Earth by destroying (with Gollum’s help) The Ring. The little story within the big story is Sam choosing to go with Frodo instead of staying with the others in the fellowship. Or the little story is Frodo offering grace to Gollum—saving grace, as it turns out. The little story is Merry and Pippin escaping captivity and stirring up the Ents.

But the little stories and the big are so much more heroic because Hobbits performed the deeds. Hobbits, who might define ordinary. These were not folk who love adventure, but they took it on because they were needed.

And isn’t that one thing, at least, that makes readers connect with a story or love a character? An ordinary person doing an everyday heroic act on the way to saving the world. Sounds like a book I’d like to read. 😉

Published in: on December 12, 2008 at 12:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 Comments

  1. It’s so true. We care much more about ordinary people who do something brave, and selfless. I think subconsciously, we like to read stories where we can become the main character…we feel the pain, the difficulty more, as they choose the harder road. It inspires us. It makes us want to do something brave.

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  2. hmmm. I love orphans as heroes–Anne, Wee Sir Gibbie, Oliver Twist, Heidi…I don’t think I love them because they are ordinary as much as because they are downtrodden. I guess they are ordinary, too–not superheroes–even though they all have a nobility and spirit that is far from ordinary. But I don’t think any ordinary person will do. An ordinary bully won’t do, of course, but neither will an ordinary man who is not being pushed by something, I don’t think. I think it is the downtrodden thing that makes me love someone. Even Bilbo–Gandalf and those snotty dwarfs are abusing him right from the start.

    I think we like to see “weak on the outside” people triumph because they are strong and good on the inside. So, yes, I agree that they need to be ordinary (or weaker than ordinary, even–the hobbits were the smallest and weakest of beings).

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  3. Becky,
    Lord of the Rings…the movies anyway…made me cry! You know I struggle with fantasy, and I’m honest enough to tell you I’ve tried reading the books, but other than the Hobbit…my mind just bogs down.

    But the movies….be still my heart! I’ve watched them dozens of times, and the ending still makes me cry!

    Kim

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