Introduction to Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth
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I’m a Hobbit.
Yes, I know I look like a human, except maybe in the morning when I first wake up, when I look—and probably smell—much more like an orc. I definitely grunt in the Black Speech for 30 minutes or more, until I manage to stumble to the kitchen, fry up a couple eggs, some sausage, and toast some bread, onto which I scrape plenty of butter.
I’ve been accused, not inaccurately, of being more Dwarvish: warlike, belligerent, greedy and self-centered. I suspect that somewhere back in my lineage, one of my ancestors probably lived in a cave, ate fire-roasted shanks of pork, drank kegs of ale, which dribbled down his hairy chin while he rested his posterior on sacks of dragon-gold. Or was that me, last night?
I’m not really a dwarf, or an orc. I’m much too tall for either. At slightly over 6 feet tall, most of my friends would probably say that I look more like one of the Rohirrim: long, curly blonde hair, salt n pepper goatee, blue eyes, and an overly serious scowl. I have to admit that I would probably look more at home on the back of a horse, with spear in hand, smashing into waves of orc-flesh on the Pelennor, than tiptoeing through tulips in the Shire. In the ‘real world,’ I’m a teacher, trained in Viking military history. I love reading, researching, and writing about martial subjects. I’ve dreamt of wild adventures: riding into battle like Theoden or fighting my way out of stony rooms full of gnashing orcs in Moria, so that’s certainly part of my nature. And by appearance, that’s what you would think, too.
Other than my belly—evidence of very few skipped second breakfasts—and my hairy feet—which thankfully remained covered 7 to 8 months of the year—no one would ever know to look at me that I’m a Hobbit. Truth be told, however, I would rather be blowing smoke rings from my pipe, reading a dusty tome in my little home study—and occasionally tiptoeing through tulips; just don’t tell any of my friends. My favorite days include activities like looking out the window at snow falling, sipping a cup of warm cocoa, or sitting in my garden, drinking a cold beer on a summer afternoon, dreaming of second breakfast, or sixth supper. In fact, one day at work not long ago, I was thinking to myself, “You know what I really love the most in life? Food.” Yep, just food. I love the cooking of food, the eating of food, the talking about food, the thinking about food, and the dreaming about food. Food, food, food. That’s what I love. Can there be anything more Hobbity than that? I reckon not.
But I’m not writing a cookbook. I might do that one day, but that’s not what this book is about. This book is about how we all can learn to live more like Hobbits—simply, hospitably, bravely, with a sense of respect and awe for Nature—and, in so doing, save this Middle Earth, much as little Frodo and his companions did so very long ago.
Why THIS book, and why NOW?
Our Middle Earth, Mother Earth, is dying. A dark power is assaulting her daily. Her species, both plant and animal, are disappearing at an alarming rate. Her great rivers, lakes and oceans are steaming with pollution. Poisonous fumes belch into her atmosphere, trapping heat upon her surface, raising the levels of her seas, disturbing her weather patterns, whipping up ever more massive storms and droughts. Hordes of orcish exploiters wielding massive chainsaws are felling her forests so quickly that they may not last another 50 years. I won’t belabor the point. For most of you, you already know these things, in general, if not in exhaustive detail. I will cover it in brief detail in Part I, Mordor is at the Door, but even there, I will only give you the briefest glimpse of the iceberg. There are plenty of books on what is wrong with the earth. Suffice it to say for now, the Shire is burning. But why is this happening?
Why would we, the human species, with so much professed intelligence, devour, devastate, and destroy the ecological system supporting our very existence? In this book, I assign the underlying cause of our insanity to the evil power of the One Ring. Yes, the Ring does exist, metaphorically at least. But what it is, and where it resides, is not so obvious, because it is an ancient cultural myth, long forgotten, hidden in the long, dark of our collective ‘Moria’. Forgotten, but just as powerful and destructive as it ever was. And the Ring has nothing to do with religion, not directly anyway. Neither is it some kind of new age boogyman, or a gift from Marvin the Martian. The Ring is cultural, and it’s entirely the product of perfectly ‘normal’ homo sapiens sapiens; to understand it is not to abandon one’s religious beliefs, or beliefs in boogymen or martians—though you may abandon, hopefully, some of your key cultural preconceptions.
You may be asking, “Why do we need to know why we are destroying our planet? Is it really important to know the cause? Isn’t it enough to know that we are doing it, and to just stop?” I suppose that the point could be made that on a personal level, knowing the underlying cause of our insanity isn’t that important. We could, after all, just choose to treat the earth with respect, recycle our garbage, put up solar panels on our houses, grow our own food or buy organic and local produce, join protest rallies at city hall, at the White House or Downing Street. Certainly all those are good ideas, which I will discuss in the last part of the book. But I will argue here, that unless we really know why we are screwing up our precious planet, we really can’t change the course of our actions in an effective way. Knowing why is a transformative experience, and at the heart of real change. We must first change our minds, our way of thinking. Then, and only then, we can begin to live as Hobbits should, as stewards of the Earth, and do as Tolkien challenged us to do, to “outlive the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.” I would add that in order to defeat the power of the Sarumans and Saurons, we must first bring Shire-ness to the Earth, by repairing our scoured Shires, our communities.
All of that brings us to the primary subject of this little book: how to ‘be’ a Hobbit. In Part III, Saving the Earth: Sustainable Shire Living, I will attempt to do what so many modern, eco-preachy books have not: to lay out in extensive detail just how, and what, we can do, individually and collectively, to carry the One Ring to Mount Doom and toss that evil thing away, once and for all. I will also make a case for why I think it’s possible for individual Hobbits, like you, and me, to save the Earth. It will take a massive, collective fellowship of humanity to accomplish this task. But the journey begins with the first step outside your door, as Bilbo said, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
This book could be written in infinitely different ways, and the ideas should be shouted from rooftops, in every language; it is essential that the message gets out, because our future depends upon it. There are numerous authors shouting similar messages to their audiences. That being said, one must choose an audience, or have none at all, so one day, while contemplating on which direction to go, I stumbled into the Hobbits.
Applicability vs Allegory
I chose to apply Tolkien’s world as a lens through which to view our own, for a couple of reasons. First, the story is applicable. Tolkien’s Middle Earth was under attack by a dark, mysterious force that threatened to lay waste to all in its path. Our earth is also under attack though the dark power is not as obvious as it might seem. As in The Lord of the Rings, the solution to the problem is a simple one, if arduous, dangerous and nearly impossible. Frodo, with the help of the Fellowship, was charged with carrying the Ring to its source to let it drop into the abyss whence it came: simple, but not easy. In the real world, we are all Frodo; we must each discover the true nature of our Ring, be willing to destroy it, and come home to our Shire and clean it up.
The other reason I have chosen Tolkien, other than the fact that I’m an enormous fan of his books—having read most of them some 7 or 8 times through—is that I truly believe that J.R.R. would approve of my ends, if not entirely of my means. This is where I will probably lose some of the Tolkien purists. I understand your reluctance. Many fans of his books, have taken umbrage with critics, and movie directors, for polluting Tolkien’s stories with insertions of allegory, cutting key chapters, or adding unnecessary characters and scenarios. Tolkien, himself was outspoken about people—especially other scholars—attempting to read ‘allegory’ into his books. It’s not extreme to say that he detested the attempts to find hidden meaning within his works. Tolkien, while shunning allegory, did acknowledge that applicability was always a possibility when reading works of literature, “That there is no allegory does not, of course, say there is no applicability. There always is.” Thanks, Professor Tolkien, for the leeway!
The reason I think the renowned professor would approve of my ends, is that my ends are the protection, and eventual redemption of our poisoned planet. Tolkien was, at heart, a lover of Nature. He was an outspoken defender of all things green and growing, both in his fiction and in his personal and professional life. His books exude his love of natural things: trees, forests, streams, rivers, fields, mountains, the sea, animals of all species (with the possible exception of wolves and spiders). His detest for those who would destroy in the pursuit of power is evident, as well. Describing orcs he wrote: “It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosives always delighted them” (The Hobbit, 73). Much more could be said about Tolkien and his love of Nature; much of it has already been written, and a sense of it will come across as we travel along through the book.
Plus Tolkien has already done it…
If these reasons weren’t enough to convince you that I’m not profaning the good professor’s life work, then I will refer you, again, to the epigraph of this book:
I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron; but I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentle Hobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.
I love this quote. In it, the author himself applies his work to the modern world in much the same way that I propose to do it here in this book. In fact, I have adopted part of it as my life’s purpose, since Tolkien himself has charged us with a mission: to see spring again in the trees. Should we not all aspire to that? I think so. I have added to his words to construct my own purpose: To bring Shire-ness to the Earth, and spring again to the Trees. I hope that by the end of the book, it will be part of your purpose as well.
The Earth Depends on Tolkien’s Message
The most important reason I have chosen Professor Tolkien’s works for this project is that the message I hope to impart to you is, I believe, the most important one that you need to hear at this very moment in history. To reach the largest audience possible it is necessary to target the message. If I were to write this in a general way—without Tolkien’s assistance that is—I might reach a very small segment of people already concerned about the environment, governmental corruption, pollution, over-population, etc., looking for new books on the subject. Thankfully, Tolkien’s audience is a massive, global group of people, who should be, in my opinion, receptive to the ideas in this book. Most of us Tolkien fans already live in Middle Earth. In a very real sense, we view our world as an extension of Tolkien’s and wish that we were in fact, there. Many of us have travelled to that distant land and have never really returned. To view our modern world through such a lens isn’t a stretch, I think.
This is important, because if this message does not rapidly spread over the earth, and if it is not taken to heart and put into action, the Earth that the esteemed author loved so well, and the one that we should love at least as much as he, will not much longer sustain our existence. Middle Earth, Mother Earth, will reject us, and as a species we will perish or, at the very least, be reduced to a remnant of our current population. Even if that were to happen, and the odds are stacking against us—much as they were against Frodo and his world—`the survivors would still need to know the information I hope to pass along here. Because if they do not it is a distinct possibility that they will only rise from the ashes to form new civilizations on the same flawed premises on which ours was conceived. How much better it would be, for us all, if we take the little Hobbits of The Shire as our models and save the Earth.