My husband and I have spent more time walking in our neighborhood together since March of 2020, when much of our city shut down. Rooting ourselves more deeply to home and place has been an unexpected blessing.
Wonder is one of the great delights in literature. It is invoked when a reader must struggle to distinguish between the imaginative and reality. One of literature’s wonders is its ability to draw attention to ordinary things with new alluring light. Long walks, small conversations, little annoyances and desires, and hospitality’s eating and drinking are all wonderfully common things in literature. The stuff of everyday life draws our imaginations into the larger tale.
The evening of March 25th found me and six others in the home of my associate pastor, celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation around a long and laden banqueting table. However, like good hobbits, we were also celebrating the destruction of the Ring of Power and hailing the Gondorian New Year—that day when Sauron the Great met his doom and when Frodo and Sam were “brought out of the fire to the King.” The food was rich, but the conversation was sublime.
“Despair is for those who see the end beyond all doubt,” Gandalf cautions the men, elves, and dwarves (and hobbits) who have gathered to discuss Mordor’s activity and the revelation of the One Ring. While Sauron gathers orcs and evil men to himself, in a stroke of fortune they hold the Enemy’s great Weapon. The gathering is divided between two possible strategies: they will either use the Ring’s power to conquer the Dark Lord, or they will destroy it in Mount Doom’s fire.
Why do Hobbits seem always to travel in pairs? “Because two Halflings make a whole,” responded a student. This answer perfectly encapsulates the closeness between Hobbit companions. Today, intimate friendships are increasingly rare, and our individualistic society reflects this through relativism, intersectionality, and partisanship. Although commonly blamed on Luther or Descartes, radical individualism is symptomatic of a disease Aristotle described two millennia earlier. The fracturing of culture results from a loss of good friendships.
Among the tales of The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin is one of a few that feature mankind as the central characters. Like the epics of old, it begins with a great battle, one full of both hope and despair. The sons of men and kingdoms of elves suffer great loss of life and land as the battle slowly works against them. Before Húrin is captured by Morgoth, the fallen Valar or Tolkien’s Satan, Húrin’s faith is ever strong:
Frodo has come a long way in his regard for Gollum. Where once he regretted that Bilbo had not killed Gollum, now he is ready to beg Faramir for Gollum’s life. You’ll recall the scene: Gollum is hunting for fish in a forbidden pool where even the unbidden look carries the penalty of death, whilst Faramir’s men stand ready with bow and arrow poised. And Frodo comes to his rescue.
Several years ago, this wonderful video inspired me to begin reading aloud to my children at bedtime every night. My kids are currently four, three, two, and two months old and I started reading nightly when my oldest was about 6 months. It has been a wonderful ritual, for both my children and myself. I've compiled a few "things you should know before setting out" for any current or future parents that might consider instituting a similar tradition.
In a post on my old blog (the now defunct ordo-amoris.com) I wrote about how we are failing to give our boys a reason to learn, how boys are motivated by honor and how our society has left them without hope, and how one antidote to the problem may be using great literature to motivate our sons to pursue honor.
But what books should they read?
A while back, in my rhetoric class, my students and I finished studying a number of short stories to look at persuasion’s role in fiction. Among the stories, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne evoked the most rewarding discussion (maybe the year’s best).