We are nearing the end of The Hobbit. We are lamenting the fact. We all want to stay in Tolkien’s world a bit longer. Littlest even suggested reading The Trilogy outside of school. Together, but without the study guide. I am considering it: A study guide would help deepen their understanding. Would they enjoy it more if they didn’t have to answer questions after each chapter? Would they enjoy it less if I didn’t guide them into thinking about the story more deeply? Could we do it book-club style?
Whatever–I am all about reading Tolkien for any reason, so I will probably cave.
One of the questions I asked my Littles for today’s chapter of The Hobbit was, “Why did Bilbo give the Arkenstone to Bard?” If you know the story, from either the book or the films, you know this a pivotal point in the book. Their answers were many. And short.
“He wanted to help Bard with the trade.”
“He was weary of being in the mountain.”
“He didn’t want Thorin to starve.”
All true answers. But I wanted something deeper. So I kept asking, “Why?” What purpose could Bilbo be serving in helping Bard with the trade and keeping Thorin from starving and even getting out of the mountain? They came to it, eventually, without any statements from me. Just continually leading questions.
Bilbo was trying to save everybody. This tiny being who once believed he had no adventurous spirit or courage and had been through so many tests of his valor… In the end, he just wanted to save everybody the strife he saw coming if Thorin and Bard continued their stand-off. Why?
There are a couple of true life lessons I want my Littles to leave home having ingrained in their beings. Be Kind. Stand Up For What Is Right. (In fact, my favorite thing about Disney’s live-action Cinderella is that Ella’s mother’s final advice to her daughter is, “Be kind and have courage.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.)
So I told the Littles as we discussed Bilbo’s motives, “Tolkien is showing us what a true hero does. He doesn’t just rush into battle, sword blazing, haloed by courage. He is kind. To everyone. He stands up for what is right. It doesn’t always take a battle to do that.” I haven’t been able to drive that lesson home so well since we studied Samuel Adams and the Revolutionary War.
When we are kind, we put a good and light energy into the world that pays both forward and backward. Especially if we are kind for no reason. One example I set is that I always read the name tags of people working in the public (cashiers, fast food clerks, etc.), and call them by name when speaking to them. Invariably, they smile. Granted, they are also kind back to me, which gets me better service, but that is not the reason I take the time to read their names and use them. I do it because I have worked such jobs and I know how it can start to feel like people are not really seeing you as a human being. And I don’t ever want to make another person feel that way.
When we have the courage to speak up for what we believe in and take action to support those beliefs, we push back against tyranny. My Littles understand that each person is an individual with individual thoughts and beliefs, and that we all have the right to those things. So they don’t pressure others to think like them, and they don’t sit back and allow others to pressure them into behaving in a way that goes against their own beliefs. It’s a great weapon against peer pressure that will help them throughout their lives.
I was glad that here in our final week of school we got to have such a great discussion about something so important to me. I guess that means I owe even more gratitude to Tolkien than I previously thought. I don’t mind. I can’t wait to see what he teaches us in The Trilogy.
And Have Courage.