I’d Rather Be a Hobbit than a Wizard

A little while ago, someone commented that they were disappointed to see that I had written the essay, “Fight Like a Hobbit! Fight Climate Change!”, when I had previously published “‘You’re Not Fucking Gandalf”: 12 Movies to Remind You That Pagans Need to Grow Up’.

I’m a fantasy geek.  I love the character of Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  But I have a problem with how many Pagans seem to be unable to distinguish fantasy from fiction.  As I said the “Gandalf” essay:

“It’s time to grow up Pagans. You’re not fucking Merlin or Gandalf. You’re not a reincarnated Egyptian princess or Celtic priestess. And your teen witch spells are not going to change your eye color, or make you levitate, or get you that long-desired revenge on those high school mean girls. …

“You want to stand on the Bridge of Khazad Dum like Gandalf?  Then get in the streets and face down a police line.  Or volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Or climb a fucking tree.  Because what you will encounter in any one of those places is far more real than any Balrog.”

Then why, for Goddess’ sake would I turn around and write another essay, this one having to do with hobbits–the little people in the very same fantasy series that Gandalf appears in?!

While I get what the person was saying, I really don’t think there was a contradiction.  Both essays referred to Tolkien characters, but they did so in very different ways.  And actually the messages of the two essays were consistent.

The “Gandalf” essay was a rant about the disconnect between Pagans’ delusions of magical grandeur and fighting fantasy monsters, on the one hand, and the real (but more subtle) magic of re-enchanting the world and the hard work of fighting real monsters–like capitalism and racism–on the other.  The “Hobbits” essay, used a fantasy story to illustrate the importance of engaging in real political action in response to global climate change.  It was about connecting a Pagan holiday, the summer solstice, with an imminent threat to all life:

“When we light our solstice fire this year, I will be thinking of shadows.  I will be thinking of ruined landscapes.  And I will be thinking of Hobbits.  Little people who took up farm tools and kitchen implements and drove out the shadow of desolation from their homes. …

“Resisting the scourging of our planet will mean fighting.  We won’t rescue our friends and families just by being shocked and sad. … Individually, we may feel we are small and powerless, like the little people of the Shire. But, together, we are mighty!”

The article ended with six practical suggestions for organizing people to fight against the forces which are now threatening everything.

I don’t have a problem with fantasy fiction.  In fact, I think crafting stories is essential to marshaling people for any fight.  But it’s a problem when we confuse the myth for reality, the messenger with the message, the moon for the finger pointing at the moon.

There’s another reason why I think writing about hobbits is okay, while fantasizing about wizards isn’t always.  Hobbits are the little people of Tolkien’s fantasy world.  They are taken for granted by nearly everyone.  They are not especially strong or fast or smart.  Except for their unimpressive size, they are just ordinary.

And yet, the hobbits end up being the heroes of Tolkien’s trilogy.  Why?  In a world filled with elves and warriors, dragons and, yes, wizards, how is it that the fat little hobbits being the heroes?  Because, they are resilient and because they have community.  The hobbits get knocked down–both literally and figuratively–again and again. And yet, somehow, they keep going.  And they are able to do this, because they are together.  In fact, near the end of the story, the main character, the hero, Frodo … fails.  He has to be carried to the precipice by his friend, Sam.  And when he gets there, he gives in, he is overcome with the lust for power.  And he is only saved by the loyalty and love of Sam.

When I go to Pagan events, there are plenty of people dressed up as wizards.  But there’s no one dressed up as hobbits.

I get it.  In high school, I was a skinny and physically uncoordinated teen.  And I loved fantasy books about powerful wizards, about worlds where the power of mind could compete with the power of muscle on the physical level.  But that’s a fantasy.  At best, it can be a healing distraction, and at worst a harmful one.

People don’t fantasize about being hobbits, because there’s nothing glamorous or sexy about them.  They’re ordinary.  They are dwarfs in a world of giants.  They are … well, us.  At least, that’s how most of us usually feel: We have no special powers or unique talents, but we are nevertheless caught up in titanic times.

This is probably why “You’re Not Fucking Gandalf” is the second most popular post here at The Allergic Pagan (close behind “Why Contemporary Paganism Deserves to Die”), and almost no one read “Fight Like a Hobbit” (either time I published it).  Nobody wants to be a hobbit … because  we already feel like hobbits.  We want to feel like powerful wizards or beautiful elven warriors.

But the reality is that we’re hobbits, not wizards or warriors.  We’re Frodo and Sam, not Gandalf.  And were are not going to triumph in our battles for justice and ecological sanity by waiving our hands in the air or casting magical hexes.

We will prevail only through resilience and community.  We will prevail only after we have failed again and again and again.  We will prevail, only if we continue to pick each other up and set each other on our feet after after each fall.

We will never be Gandalf, but we can hope to be hobbits!


Postscript: I just saw that Mark Green has posted an essay today, “Presenting Ourselves to the World”, about the connection between Pagans’ penchant for dressing up like elves and wizards and Pagans’ political impotence.  And it features a screen capture from the Lord of the Rings movie! (More proof that great minds think alike.)

 

18 thoughts on “I’d Rather Be a Hobbit than a Wizard

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  1. I see you responded to my comment..fair enough..

    It just doesn’t work for me, sorry. I think when we stop fantasizing, period, and deal with each other as and be human beings in a real world, we’ll make progress as Pagans.

    Cultural myth isn’t fantasy; magic isn’t fantasy; religious experiences aren’t fantasy. We worked hard to demonstrate that. I think you and I both share the frustration of seeing too much fantasy genre being pulled into this, but using it as an analogy to make another point against it really just shows just how limiting it can be. It doesn’t matter if you dress as wizard to feel powerful or dress as a hobbit to feel “normal”. Neither are. And enough with the costumes; how about we work to know our real gifts and who we really are?

    But I know I may be speaking from the perspective of someone who didn’t have the luxury of being able to hide in fantasy when things got rough – escapism is privilege, after all. I know I’m in the minority; even arguing against fantasy takes on fantasy tropes in this community. The simple moral universes that fantasy provides are just too seductive to inhabit when dealing with a world as complex as ours.

    That said, I take your point, and we’re not obligated to agree. Get your hobbit on. 😊 Best wishes.

        1. Ok, you said that cultural myth isn’t fantasy. But fantasy can become a part of cultural myth, right? Fantasy is entertainment, distraction, but it often reproduces (and sometimes challenges) cultural myth. The problem isn’t, I think, the confusion of fantasy with cultural myth, but the confusion of either/both with reality.

          1. Well… I think you’re doing what a lot of folks do, and are conflating fantasy and cultural myth, and thinking they both address being outside of or not part of “reality”.

            Many cultures will tell you that the realms of cultural myth (the Dreamtime, the Nine Worlds, Heaven, the Atisokanak World, Other worlds that shamans and medicine people travel to, etc.) are the *true reality*, more real than the material and corporeal one we inhabit and negotiate (in fact, some cultures argue that we inhabit a dream or a delusion on a daily basis). They are not the opposite of reality. And certainly not a distraction — one must pay close attention to and apply what one learns in these mythic realms and stories to one’s daily existence.

            If you skip reading Harry Potter, the LOTR, or GoT, you aren’t going to miss much. Likewise, if your life lessons and your moral code come from Jedi Knights, you don’t have much. Tolkien and Martin and Lucas et al don’t care if we learn anything from their stories.

            People forget — yes, fantasy may *appropriate* mythic tropes and have an epic feel, but it’s entertainment intended to make money. The decisions made by fantasy writers, producers, directors, and what have you are intended for an audience that ultimately will fund their way of making a living. Nothing wrong with that, but folks who think that they are invested in a culture in the true sense with this genre need to remember that they are paying to be part of it — which means it isn’t a culture in the true sense.

            Cultural myth tends to be carefully guarded and protected from misappropriation, and transmitted for more necessary reasons in the context of the respective culture it sits within, but profit, or making a living, or pay-for-entertainment isn’t one of them. Cultural myths contain life lessons and moral direction and identity information that one cannot and should not buy into. It’s a gift given to you by your ancestors, for you to take care of, and then pass down to young. Without the interference of an industry.

            Many have written up and interpreted cultural myths — but the cultures that they come from frequently mention that much is missing in these attempts. And much is not given to these writers. They are never complete for our consumption. Fantasy is designed to be so.

            Fantasy replicates the patterns of cultural myth and story — but the role it has in a culture is not the same.. Even Tolkein was honest about the cultural borrowing he did to write a great epic story. But the story is not cultural myth itself.

            Fantasy provides escape and entertainment. Cultural myth provides lived morality, history, identity, and knowledge.

            Boring lecture over. 🙂

            1. Interesting. That helps me understand what you mean by “cultural myth”.

              When I think of “cultural myth”, I think of the “myth of progress” or the “myth of individuality”, which are interwoven with the myth of the heroic male–myths that we need to reveal and challenge.

              1. Ah! Gotcha.

                It always helps to have an agreed-upon definition to work with before debating…

                And the dual.meaning of “myth” in our culture – myth as story containing fundamental truth…and myth as falsehood. Per your examples. The contradicting definitions sure dont help much either…

  2. From what I’ve read about Tolkien, he saw himself as a hobbit, and saw hobbits as the “good, ordinary British people” caught up in the industrial awfulness he had seen unleashed in WWI. They are, indeed, the heroes of LOTR, and their fundamental decency and love of home is something for all of us to emulate.

    1. Yes, hence the Scouring of the Shire and Saruman cutting down trees and building dark satanic mills.

      If 51.9% of the Hobbits voted for Shirexit from the Realm of Gondor & Arnor, I’d have to disown them, though.

  3. Oh actually, I’ve always “felt” like a Hobbit and I have always loved the Hobbits dearly! 🙂 Possibly I am a minority then… But in my opinion, Hobbits are the best part of the books (I read them all multiple times, and my dog’s name is Gimli, I suffer from tolkienitis, HELP) and if I do fantastise about anything, it is that I would love to live like a Hobbit in the Shire, big parties, good food and a cozy hole home with flowers on the porch included. 🙂 The Elves to me feel like cold, stuck up overlords; the Humans are quite OK but pointlessly greedy; the Dwarves are fun and endearing but they live really hard lives underground…the Wizards are powerful but also lonely (where is *their* community? where are their families?) and though I love the Ents, they are a bit too big and stagnant (except for that one time when Saruman regretted his life choices). So Hobbits it is, and if I ever go to any Pagan event, I promise to dress up as a Hobbitette :))

    1. El Hobito Pasa

      I’d rather be a hobbit than an elf
      Yes I would, if I could, I surely would
      I’d rather be a hobbit than a dwarf
      Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

      The elves, they’d rather sail away
      Like a swan that’s here and gone
      A wizard died at Khâzad Dûm
      He told the Fellowship to fly
      Fly you fools, fly!

      I’d rather be a hobbit than an Ent
      Yes I would, if I could, I surely would
      I’d rather feel the fur between my toes
      Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

      I’d rather be a hobbit than a man
      Yes I would, if I could, I surely would
      I’d rather be a hobbit than a wizard
      Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

      (with apologies to Paul Simon)

  4. I always thought that was the whole point to LotR. We are all hobbits.

    The elves could barely be bothered to be involved. (Though their involvement was increased in the movies, I thought that was a mistake.) They saw bad things happening and decided to leave.

    The wizards, though part of the problem were also – in the person of Saruman – a big part of the problem. (Probably meant to be a commentary on Lord Acton’s thoughts on power, absolute power and corruption.)

    The little people are the ones who save the day. And in particular Sam. A gardener. (Who if this was a military story would have been Frodo’s batman – not the comic book hero.) But the little people – including Smeagol – combine to do what the princes, elves and wizards didn’t manage.

  5. I LOVE THIS.

    There’s a wonderful essay by Ursula Le Guin, Science Fiction and Mrs Brown where she writes about how great it is to have ordinary characters in SF and fantasy, like hobbits, because they are

    “something new to fantasy: a vulnerable, limited, rather unpredictable hero, who finally fails at his own quest – fails at the very end of it, and has to have it accomplished for him by his mortal enemy, Gollum, who is however his kinsman…”

    Did you read my post about SF versus fantasy? I made a similar point – that fantasy is often about a wise powerful leader coming to save everybody, whereas SF is more systemic in its approach:

    In science fiction novels and dramas, the evil or oppression to be resisted is often systemic, and identifiable as a human construct, the outcome of a complex web of causality …. Because the evil or oppression is usually systemic, the means of resisting it is usually co-operative and collaborative; not led by one single hero, but requiring the input of many people working together.

    So yes, it’s totally legit to write Fight like a hobbit whilst dismissing delusions of wizardliness.

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