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.)