I have read The Hobbit so many times the book is falling apart. I’d loved the Lord of the Rings films (watching them over 150 times) and then read the trilogy at least 3 times. The books, the story, has shaped the minds and ambitions of its readers for generations. It will do so for generations more. Why these stories have lasted so long can be credited to the eloquent writing, the complex world building, the genre defining backstories, the relatable and noble characters, and so forth. Many have credited these factors.
I didn’t read The Hobbit until the cover started falling apart because of elegant writing. I didn’t watch the entire extended edition of the films over thirty times because of the grand speeches. I’ve spent hundreds of hours of my life in Middle Earth because of the lessons to be applied to real life. Bilbo is 50 years-old when Gandalf whisks him away to help reclaim the mountain home of the dwarves from the maw of Smaug. Frodo has done nothing in his life to earn a great adventure, he inherits a ring. Sam doesn’t look for adventure, he’s just in the garden at the wrong time (or right time depending on how you see it). Yet these characters rise up to the challenges they face and shape the fate of their world. Bilbo saves the lives of the dwarves along their journey and Frodo is able to resist the ring long enough to ensure its, and by extension Sauron’s, destruction. Thereby saving Middle Earth from his darkness.
There aren’t wizards and dragons in our world though, you may be thinking.
But there are moments that seem beyond us. There are challenges that we couldn’t have foreseen. There will be times when we think that we are too small to overcome a task. This is where the stories of Middle Earth speak a universal truth. “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Bilbo was a hobbit, also known as a halfling, and yet his adventure was no less because of it. Bilbo was 50 when Gandalf knocked on his door yet his age did not prevent his deeds from being great. Samwise was just trying to help a friend but, according to Tolkien himself, becomes the true hero of the Lord of the Rings. What and who we currently are does not prevent who and what we can become.
Those lessons are why the works of Tolkien have lasted so long. The lesson of hope. Hope isn’t something we must seek in others but something we can grow in ourselves. We can be our own heroes. Elves can befriend dwarves, hobbits can shape the fate of the world, men can rise above corruption, and wizards can face down ancient demons. Through tales of the extraordinary we learn that we too can rise up. You can achieve things greater than you know.