Noble Smith quotes Tolkien on the heroism of halflings: “There is a seed of courage hidden … in the heart of the fattest and most timid Hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.”

The arrival of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” series of movies translates into two … no, make it three … kinds of related books this season:

1) Reissues of Tolkien’s best books, including “The Hobbit” (no surprise there)

2) Scholarly works for the deeply obsessed fan of Tolkien’s work (like Verlyn Flieger’s “Green Suns and Faerie,” which I wrote about not long ago)

3) A mixed bag of books, ranging from interesting movie tie-ins to silly, slight works hoping to sell a few units while the movie is in theaters

When I received my advance galley of Noble Smith’s “The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to A Long And Happy Life” (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s), I groaned. “Here’s one of the silly, superficial examples of category 3!” I thought. “Ugh. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins on leadership!”

The closer I looked, the more I realized I was wrong. The conceit of this book does seem a bit silly, a bit shameless in its packaging — to see our lives in terms of the values of Tolkien’s little fellows — but is it?  Hobbits love the simple things in life: food and beer, friends, a good night’s sleep. Isn’t that like most of us?

If you’ve read Tom Shippey on the matter, you know Tolkien intended them to reflect us in his mythic cycle of tales — so Noble Smith’s book makes sense. And it’s worth a look.

I especially appreciate his chapter on “bearing the burden of your ring.” Sauron’s awful ring can only be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, and Frodo nearly dies in the effort. It slowly taints and corrupts him but he never surrenders it even though he has so many chances.  Plenty of people will gladly take it from his finger. Not just Gollum. Give it to Aragorn. Let Gondor take it. Give it to Gandalf. Let the elves deal with it, Frodo. Head for the Shire. Drink a beer and have a warm, long night’s sleep.

Frodo refuses, knowing that the ring is poisoning him.

Noble Smith praises Frodo for his focus and dedication. I’d add that Frodo displays a quality most of us lack today. He acts on behalf of a larger community of living beings who are counting on him — not simply in terms of what is best only for him. Frodo knows there will be terrible consequences for Middle-earth if he surrenders the ring just to save his own skin. So he doesn’t. He makes the hard choice that most people wouldn’t make today.

I wonder what he’d think of us if the Supreme Ring had somehow teleported him into our world.

(More Hobbity posts to come as Peter Jackson’s movie get nearer.)

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