Friday, February 17, 2012

Confused? Carry on

     Relatively early in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, protagonist-burglar Bilbo Baggins and his companion dwarves leave Rivendell, the elf-lord Elrond's dwelling, known as the "Last Homely Home".  As they journey from there, their next obstacle are the "Misty Mountains."  Tolkien writes:

There were many paths that led up into those mountains and many passes over them.  But most of the paths were cheats and deceptions and led nowhere or to bad ends; and most of the passes were infested by evil things and dreadful dangers. . . .  Long days after they had climbed out of the valley and left the Last Homely House miles behind, they were still going up and up and up.  It was a hard path and a dangerous path, a crooked way and a lonely and a long.    Now they could look back over the lands they had left, laid out behind them far below.  Far, far away in the West, where things were blue and faint, Bilbo knew there lay his own country of safe and comfortable things, and his little hobbit-hole.  He shivered.*

Tolkien doesn't write it, nor does Bilbo voice it, but the reader (at least this reader) can sense confusion and uncertainty.  Bilbo had been uncertain from the moment the quest began, especially in his assigned role as the group's "burglar".  Yet he had found himself carried along on the beginning of this adventure.  And now it was really changing.
      They had left the "Last Homely Home" and, now, up on the crooked path--one of many--on the Misty Mountains, he could look back and recall "his own country of safe and comfortable things".  That, and the cold, was enough to make him shiver.  It was a point, a time, of confusion.  And we, when confronted by uncertainty, yet with a summons forward are often prone to look back, and perhaps to follow that gaze, to where things were safe and comfortable.
      Maybe not the wisest, or best, choice -- to hunker down, or circle the wagons.  Certainly that safe, comfortable, home had qualities that made it so.  But circumstances change.  And that change may imply that the old comforts are inadequate for the new times.  These are opportunities for us to be stretched, to be changed, to grow.  Great spiritual/religious leaders consistently have called us to leave places of comfort.  They may promise an attractive future security, or an equally compelling future with NO security--but the promise is usually enough to galvanize followers to leave their "Last Homely Home" to try to create a better one.
       My sense is that times of confusion, of seeing a myriad of roads going everywhere, or nowhere, are times to collect what we love about the "Last Homely Home" and pack it up for a journey, or in Bilbo's case, an adventure.  As the hobbit learned, the journey over the Misty Mountains wasn't the only challenge he and his companions would face (he did know, certainly, that there was a dragon to encounter).   But he didn't turn back.  The promise of the adventure contained within the confusion was enough to convince him to carry on.
       Spoiler alert:  he made it over the mountains, met the dragon, acted as a burglar . . . and was changed!   Better than staying home, huh?



*J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit or There and Back Again.  Rev Ed.  (New York:  Ballantine Books, 1974), 64.

No comments:

Post a Comment