NOV / DEC 2012: BY CHRISTY McDOUGALL
In our modern myths and fairy tales our heroes are larger than life. They’re fabulously strong or wealthy or intelligent or brave. In Marvel’s Captain America, Steve Rogers is a plucky but ultimately ignorable little guy; it’s not until he’s turned into a near-immortal near-giant that he’s worth writing a story about. Iron Man is fabulously wealthy and has a suit that makes him nearly invincible. Super-genius Bruce Banner is uninteresting until he becomes the indestructible, destructive Hulk. We want to see power in our heroes.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote an English myth about something a little closer to what Christians know as reality. He wrote about the upside-down logic of a great and desperate task achievable only by the smallest, weakest, and humblest of characters. We find this logic hard to understand, but it’s made clear in the writings of Paul the Apostle and illustrated beautifully by Tolkien in The Lord Of The Rings.
In The Hobbit, a Hobbit is an amusing and plucky character who stumbles his way through adventures and comes out quite a different person than he started. But it’s not until The Lord Of The Rings that the story changes to become one of desperate times and tremendous affairs that can only be resolved by Hobbits, the beings of Middle-earth least suited to desperate times and tremendous affairs.
Hobbits are small, homely, home-and comfort-loving creatures who are so insignificant and so good at hiding that hardly anyone in Middle-earth even knows they exist. They’re humble and don’t like adventures. Even in The Hobbit, the Dwarves don’t like having a Hobbit sent along on their quest. Who wants a Hobbit when it comes time for great deeds? No one, least of all Hobbits themselves.
And that is the miracle of the Hobbit. The greatest deed in all Middle-earth, the most difficult, the one no one wants, that of walking like a complete idiot through the dark hell of Mordor to chuck the greatest treasure of the Third Age into a volcano accurately called Doom, can only be done by that small, weak, unimportant being, a Hobbit. If a Wizard does it, he won’t even get close to Mordor, for the hidden glory he carries as a divine Maia of Valinor will reveal him instantly to the Enemy. No one could ever overlook an Elf walking through dark lands. A Man would die long before he reached Mount Doom. But a Hobbit is so little he can slip through cracks. A Hobbit is so funny-looking he can disguise himself as an Orc. A Hobbit is so earthy he knows how to move in near-invisibility. A Hobbit is so tough that he can be stretched thin, “like butter scraped over too much bread,” and still take the next step.
It’s almost as if the Hobbits were created specifically for this deed, as if they’re small and overlooked and timid and intrinsically tough and honest on purpose, for this purpose. All the attributes that among the glories and strengths of Wizards, Elves and Men appear to be weaknesses become the very aspects that get the Hobbits through Mordor to the end of their road. “This is the hour of the Shire-folk,” Elrond says at his Council in The Fellowship of The Ring, “when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it?”
The Apostle Paul was a superhero among the Jews of his time. He said, “If anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (Philippians 3:4b). He had everything a Jew ought to have and was everything a Jew ought to be. He was even a superhero among apostles, with his call, his education, the many churches he founded, the many disciples he made. He was one of the Great. And yet he told the Corinthian Christians this: “Consider your calling, brethren: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Not all of us are educated. Not all of us are physically strong. Not all of us are attractive. Not all of us have good, loving family backgrounds. Not all of us have lived even, smooth lives without trauma. Not all of us have been Christians from birth and have nothing to regret in our histories. Few people would ever say about most of us, “Now, there’s the perfect person for God to use.” And God delights in using those people whom the Wise would overlook. He doesn’t have to turn us into Captain America to do it.
Sometimes a Hobbit is the perfect person to do the greatest deeds. ■
All Bible verses from the ESV.