From J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit

”If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

Those words are among the few spoken by Thorin Oakenshield as he lay on his deathbed. I recently finished re-reading The Hobbit and am currently working my way through The Lord of the Rings. It’s passages like that that make Tolkien’s more popular works resonate deeply with me.

I decided to revisit them this year as an antidote to cynicism. I get that his work might seem dated, even (gasp) irrelevant when compared with the gritty worldliness of series like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Ugly human nature and realpolitik are on full display in GRRM’s work, and how appropriate those elements are for our “post-truth” culture.

And while we need the unflinching honesty of ASOIAF, I would also argue that we equally need the unflinching courage and hope that Tolkien’s legendarium exemplifies. My default dispositions are cynicism and despair. Such attitudes are not difficult to come by, but nor are they useful — they do not bring healing or change, but simply perpetuate the pain, loneliness, and animosity that characterizes much of public and private life.

Call it naive, escapist, or whatever you will, but I read these books — and write this blog — because I believe that there is good worth believing in.

The chorus of Thrice’s “The Long Defeat”) puts it well —

So keep holding on to hope without assurance Holding on to a memory of light But will the morning come? For all I know we’ll never see the sun But together we’ll fight the long defeat

Oddly enough, inspiration for those lyrics came from Tolkien as well.

Someday, it will be a merrier world.