Yes, I know my readers might be tired of this, but I will not miss an excuse to reference J. R. R. Tolkien. It is September 22, which is International Hobbit Day (it being the date of Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday). Technically, Tolkien Reading Day is March 25, but that is also the Feast of the Annunciation, so on a Catholic blog, that is more important.
I was tempted to write on how Amazon absolutely ruined everything Tolkien wrote in Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power (no offense to anyone who likes Rings of Power, but seriously, read the book), but I figured I had to write about Hobbits for Hobbit Day and Hobbits may well be in Rings of Power, but they should not be in Rings of Power because Hobbits were not really a thing in the Second Age.
Second, I wanted it to have something to do with apologetics. The fortunate thing is, The Lord of the Rings has a lot of themes I can utilize. I would zone in on hobbits, of course, because of the day. For those who have not read the book, first of all, read the book, other than the fact that this article will contain a few spoilers, I personally consider it to be illegal to die without reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. (or at least, it should be!)
But more seriously, hobbits are small persons who serve as main characters to both works. Bilbo Baggins was the protagonist of The Hobbit, and Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Peregrin Took, and Merry Brandybuck were (more or less) the protagonists of The Lord of the Rings. Aside from that, a sixth hobbit, Sméagol-Gollum, appears in the books, but he is evil. Hobbits are the ones made to be most relatable and down-to-earth, much more so than the Men, many of whom, such as Aragorn and the other Dúnedain, are around 6’4″ and can live thrice the lifespan of lesser men—as opposed to hobbits who are around 3’6” and whose oldest member other than Bilbo, whose life was extended by magic, only lived to 130 years old.
The second concept I would like to introduce is the One Ring, the Master Ring, Isildur’s Bane, the Ring that he lost many ages ago, to the great weakening of his power, an ancient artifact created by the Dark Lord Sauron in the Second Age for the purpose of ruling over the Free peoples of Middle-earth. The Ring was an object Bilbo Baggins found in the Misty Mountains, it having previously been possessed by Gollum for six hundred years. He found it made him invisible (what it actually did was bring him, as a mortal, into the Realm of the Unseen, but that is close enough), and he used it on his adventures, once even invisibly calling some giant spiders fat (long story…). After his adventures, Bilbo settles down in his town of Hobbiton and at length passes on the Ring to his heir, Frodo. It is then that Gandalf comes by and tells him what the Ring is.
Tolkien was a devout and practicing Catholic. At one point in the story, Frodo asks Gandalf, “Why was I chosen?” To this, Gandalf responds, “Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” (p. 61) So, to answer anyone’s questions, it cannot be said that the success of Frodo’s mission was really through his own strength. Frodo undoubtedly relied on his friends, but also on something much more powerful. “There was never much hope,” says Gandalf at another time. “Just a fool’s hope, as I have been told.” (p. 797)
Tolkien’s Catholicism was very important to him, so I think any Christian symbolism is very important. According to Luke 1:53, “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
But perhaps the most important aspect of the book for this discussion is the climax of the story. Again, spoilers are here, but I doubt many people who are unfamiliar with The Lord of the Rings would have read this far anyway, so I am not overly concerned. As Frodo arrives at Mount Doom, he fails to destroy the Ring. Tolkien himself points out that this is not Frodo’s fault since he actually resisted as long as was humanly possible. So then Frodo claims the Ring for his own and puts it on his finger. However, Gollum arrives just in time, bites off Frodo’s finger, and takes the Ring.
‘Precious, precious, precious!’ Gollum cried. ‘My Precious! O my Precious!’ And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.The Lord of the Rings, p. 925
It is generally agreed by Tolkien scholars (especially Christian Tolkien scholars) that this was done by Providence or, more properly, by the power of Eru Ilúvatar, basically God in Tolkien’s lore.
Now why am I bringing this up? (other than it being an unapologetic excuse to talk about hobbits, of course) Well, there is an idea circulating among various Protestant sects known as monergism, a believe that comes as a fruit of the wider view of Sola Fide. Basically, the idea is that the Catholic claim that a Christian must cooperate with God’s grace to be saved, thus doing good work. (see Matthew 12:50, 1 Corinthians 3:9)
Frodo did not perform his task by his own strength (whatever the evil movies may say). Yes, he had his friends, especially Sam Gamgee, but he had more than that. As Gandalf said earlier, he was chosen, not because he had much power, but he used the power he had, and with God’s help, it was enough. I am not preaching semi-Pelagianism. He was given grace in the first place and without it, Frodo could not have set out in the first place. But Frodo had to align himself with the will of God to complete the quest, God being the principle cause of his actions and Frodo being but the secondary cause. This is the reasoning Catholics hold when they say they must cooperate with God’s grace. No good can be done without God, but God gave us free will because He wanted us to be associated with His work and gave us free will.
Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Catholic of Honor