If you have followed my blog for a while now, then you know I am a big fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I think I have read many parts of The Lord of the Rings at least twenty times – each! The Hobbit I have not read quite as much, though Peter Jackson’s film trilogy based on that book has got me cracking it open every now and then to double check certain details.
Although I enjoy Middle-earth no end, I know that I do not qualify for admittance to the Elves’ society (High or Silvan), I am not a dwarf and – sadly – I do not even qualify as a hobbit (especially in size). So I think I am therefore stuck with the Rohirrim or the other, lesser denizens of Gondor (those who do not have Númenórean heritage and who, therefore, live about as long as everybody else today does). Of the two, I probably fall in with the lesser men of Gondor, though I do not suppose I would mind being a part of the Horse Lords’ society. Ah, well, we cannot have everything we want.
All this needless blather about Tolkien’s masterpiece aside, why am I even bringing it up? I am bringing it up in relation to a book I read recently by two Tolkien scholars. The book is called The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Its authors are Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards.
And before you have the chance to suppose that I would burden you with a book only about numbers and charts and graphs, readers, perish the thought! Not only do I find such books dreary and headache-inducing, I would not drop any such volume on anyone else’s lap (although I might make an exception in Loki’s case). The Hobbit Party is not a volume that relies heavily on either numbers or graphs to make its points. Its two authors vivaciously explain what they – and others – have discovered in Tolkien’s massive, marvelous magnum opus.
“But why should anyone study The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings,” some people ask, “especially in order to make a statement about subjects that are anything but fictional (such as economics and war)? That is for economists and scholars to debate, not fiction analysts!”
Oh, but how widely these people miss their mark! They forget, quite easily, that Tolkien himself was a scholar. Specifically, he was a pioneer in the study of language (this branch of learning’s official title is philology), and he had a great store of knowledge about many things himself, including war. Tolkien was a British soldier who served in the dark, wet, horror-filled trenches at the Somme in World War I. He knew war better than many people – especially those who ran that particular debacle that was given the deceptive title “The War to End All Wars.”
Mr. Witt and Mr. Richards explore the landscape and history of Middle-earth throughout The Hobbit Party, covering everything from government to war, from death and immortality to economics, all in the light of what they know Tolkien knew. The Hobbit Party is an essential companion to Tolkien’s work. It is not the essential companion – there is never going to be a book big enough to do that job – but it is a book whose reading will greatly illuminate the points Tolkien was trying to make in the great epic so many have come to love.
On a final, minor note, you may ask why it is I picked up this book, readers. The reason I wanted this book was the same reason I have reread parts of The Lord of the Rings so often. Through his fantastic modern myth, Tolkien was trying to teach his readers something – or several somethings – that were very important to the readers’ well being and to the well being of the following generations of readers.
In my own readings of the trilogy, I found several of those things, some of which I have shared in posts and on a page on this blog. There are more; I just have not taken the time to type them up yet. But, despite all these little breadcrumbs I found scattered throughout the novels, I knew I had only scratched the surface of what Tolkien was trying to tell me. I knew there was more in his novels, more levels of truth I had to dig for.
But, in some places, I have been afraid to dig too deeply on my own. If I were to find more truth but misunderstand it when I found it, and pass this misunderstanding on to others, then no matter my good intentions I may cause pain and sorrow that could be avoided. And so I have looked for a companion digger – or diggers – to help me understand what I have found in my excavations. Mr. Witt and Mr. Richards are two fellow Middle-earth spelunkers who have not only discovered the same jewels I have, but who have gone even deeper in and found larger gems! For that reason I recommend their work to you, readers, so that when you next journey into Middle-earth, you will know where to dig for the treasure Tolkien left behind for us to discover. Therefore, readers –
The Mithril Guardian
At your service!