Learning From The Lord of the Rings

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The Lord of the Rings series of books is an epic fantasy adventure. More than anything it is a study of our very humanity, the traits that make us heroes and those that turn us into villains. For me its importance lies in acknowledging that no single person is perfect, and our propensity for violence and evil is often only a single emotional outburst away. Nonetheless if individuals are determined, loyal and brave they might overcome the flaws in their personalities and accomplish great things. Our journey to do this will be complex and wrought with failures, but if people persist in doing what they believe to be right, ultimately good will conquer wickedness.

Frodo Baggins is the unlikeliest of heroes. He is a tiny man who questions himself continually and often misjudges the people around him, thus making critical mistakes that lengthen his hero’s journey. In spite of his many setbacks, he understands the gravity of his responsibility for carrying the ring to Middle Earth and continues the quest even when he would rather give up. Samwise Gamgee seems to be the wrong choice for a champion on such a dangerous mission and yet it is his folksy wisdom and unrelenting loyalty that pushes Frodo forward. Without Samwise it is doubtful that Frodo would have been successful in his endeavor. Sam seems always ready to set Frodo back on the right path. 

Gandolf is a powerful, mystical figure who sacrifices himself for the fellowship by literally laying down his own life so that the others may continue the journey. He returns as the White Wizard, as a kind of resurrection figure. A host of other quite different individuals support Frodo’s cause as well for the sake of humankind. From Aragorn to Legolas to Gimli. They too falter from one moment to the next in a world turned upside down, ultimately coming together in spite of the cultural and geographical divergences that might have generally separated them from one another. They represent the ability of humanity to join forces for a common good, but also the human tendencies to disagree with one another as they attempt to fight their battles with evil. They must overcome petty differences, jealousies and questions about what is really the best path to follow. This requires trust and forgiveness even when grave blunders result in setbacks and death.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a very religious man so his saga has overtones of spirituality, but his main intent was to tell a story of courage in spite of our human failings. He wants us to know that no great accomplishment is ever achieved without setbacks, strong supports and determination. We would do well to understand the tale not just as an exciting adventure, but also as a guidepost for living. It is important for us to understand that fellowship is more important than corrupt power. It may seem overwhelming when evil stalks us, but if we are willing to make sacrifices, be honorable, avoid jealousies and remain loyal to each other for the common good we will overcome even the most horrific situations. Frodo reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely among us is called upon to do very difficult things.

I suppose that all of history demonstrates the truth of Tolkien’s analysis of human kind through the lens of his epic story. We are at our best when we attempt to work together, to make sacrifices, to forgive blunders, to accept responsibility, to remain loyal. Sadly we also have strong proclivities toward just the opposite. We become obsessed with our own personal concerns, seek power no matter how it hurts others, allow envy to rule our decisions, are unwilling to compromise. We spend more time lamenting mistakes and placing blame than getting things done. Ultimately our pride leaves us in a state of chaos. 

I suppose that it is a Herculean task to bring together the many facets of the world. Nobody has ever been successful at achieving that. These days it’s difficult to find any place on earth where all of the citizens in a particular locale get along.  When challenges occur we spend so much time disagreeing and seemingly less working together. We are often reluctant to make sacrifices or to admit that sometimes blunders are simply a sign of at least trying something. We should use them to learn, not to bring down those making an effort. We never know how we would react in the same situation, so playing the blame game is a wasted effort. 

The saga of humankind did not end with the return of the ring to Middle Earth. It has continued for all of time. Somehow we seem to repeat our mistakes over and over again. Perhaps it is because not a single one of us is perfect. Maybe we need to learn to sacrifice like Gandolf, be brave like Aragorn, and be wise and loyal to each other like Samwise. It certainly would be a better situation than what is so prevalent now.   

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