The wisdom of being a hobbit

A Gandalf hat that a friend has made for me :).

I often come back to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, especially when I am tired. The book, but also the movie, reminds me that rest is death. “If we fail, we fall,” Gandalf says. “If we succeed, then we’ll face the new task.” Life is activity; rest takes place beyond life, in falling, in something that happens to you, without you doing anything about it. But if we live, success means passing from one task to another, from a kind of activity to another kind. “Success” needs no celebration. “Success” is remaining in activity, responding to whatever is given to you. Is there a party? Then you may need to work on fireworks. Are there orcs around? Then you may need to grab your sword. Is someone down next to you? Then you may need to hold someone’s arm. I think that Tolkien’s point is that we should not wait for a time when we can finally rest: rest means death. We should rather rejoice and give thanks for the time we have now, regardless of how that time seems to be. Theoden was resting before Gandalf visited him; Theoden had renounced life.

But this does not mean that we must always look for an activity. In fact, the idea of activity is accompanied by a danger as well; it is the peril of considering oneself to be the one on whom the good of the world depends. “I cannot fail, because failing means the loss of what we were fighting for.” “It is in my power to save the world.” When we get too attached to the idea of activity, we again perceive it as something separate from its results, as if the activity is successful only as long as it results in something. Boromir thinks this way. He believes that they have the power to win against the enemy if they are given the right weapon. The Ring of power is a gift, he says. Why not use it? “Give Gondor the weapon of the Enemy; let us use it against him.”

Boromir is a man of logic. He judges situations according to what he knows people can or cannot do. And he knows that the solution of the council of Elrond is folly. How can you send some hobbits into the land of evil, with no weapons to fight the enemy? “One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There’s evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful… Not with 10,000.00 men you could do this. It is folly.”

According to logic, Boromir is right. But if one follows logic, one ends as a knight of infinite resignation, if I were to use Kierkegaardian terminology. The moment of his death shows him so: Boromir had lost hope because he had failed: “The world of men will fall and all will come to darkness.”

Logic is linear. It gives us tasks which, once completed (or failed), say nothing more to us. We can finally “rest”; that is, disappear. But life is an activity beyond logic, where there is no rest, but only presence. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Coming out of logic, so coming out of activity that has rest as finality, is presence.


At the end of The Hobbit, Gandalf tells Bilbo Baggins, “You’re a very fine person… but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world…” Remember your activity is part of life, not a fixing of life.

“Thank goodness!” Bilbo responds.


About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
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One Response to The wisdom of being a hobbit

  1. Pingback: The wisdom of being a hobbit | Tavi's Corner

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