The Courage to Endure

Tolkien has, of course, been criticized for “boring” his readers with extended and excruciating descriptions of each and every march. (In his typically affable-irascible style, Tolkien once responded that the real problem with The Lord of the Rings was that it was too short!) Nevertheless, despite the understandable impatience of modern readers, the fact remains that the long length and slow pace of The Lord of the Rings are central to Tolkien’s overall vision. For the true courage of the nine walkers (especially Frodo) consists precisely in their endurance, their ability to press on no matter the pain or adversity. They are all given numerous chances to turn back and abandon the quest. Instead, they slog on day after weary day, facing every obstacle with quiet determination.

Such courage through endurance has become a foreign thing to our modern civilization, which demands to have everything now, without having to wait or suffer for it. Yes, college students will press on for four or more years to get their degree, but they expect to live well while they do it, and they rarely deny themselves any pleasures along the way. When they graduate and get married, they expect to have immediately everything that their parents have now—as opposed to what their parents had when they first got married. Even as they age, they rarely deny themselves the most up-to-date technological equipment; rather than save enough money to buy a new car, they buy the new car now and pay for it later. This impulsive, consumer-driven behavior may seem at first to have nothing to do with the issue at hand, but it is, in fact, closely related. Only those who possess fortitude can bear to have their desires mortified for a higher cause; only the truly courageous can endure the loss (permanent or temporary) of those things that they consider their right and their due.

As he approaches Mount Doom, Frodo finds that the Ring has robbed him not only of his joy and peace but of his most basic sensual pleasures:

No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire [the Eye of Sauron]. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades. (VI.iii.916)

The stripping that Frodo must endure if he is to complete his mission is almost unbearable; yet still, he presses on. He never says, “I have done and suffered enough and now want someone else to take over.” He most certainly never complains that it is “unfair” that he should have to bear the brunt of the work. His mind is fixed on a single goal: getting the Ring to Mount Doom. What is “best for him” or what will “help him to grow in his career” are irrelevant. All that matters is that he fulfill his duty.

 

Describe a time when your patience was tested.

John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was  with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not

 

 

DIG DEEPER


We are joined this month by our friend, Dr. Lou Markos, Professor of English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, where he holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities. This month Lou will guide us through his masterful book On The Shoulders of Hobbits.

In addition to this site, our closest friends from over 130 countries meet in our Facebook discussion group, which you can join by clicking HERE.

For the study this month, Lou says

My approach throughout will be simple.In each chapter I take up a single theme (the nature of pilgrimage, facing death, kingship and hierarchy, the virtue of hope, the love that forgives, forbidden fruit) that has been overlooked or dismissed by our age, and then illustrate and embody that theme by making parallel references to one or more episodes from The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, or The Silmarillion. I will then develop the theme further by zeroing in on a single passage from one of the seven Chronicles of Narnia that clarifies or complements Tolkien’s message.

Happy reading and blessings for the journey!

 

Forward to On the Shoulders of Hobbits

Peter Kreeft

Why should I read this book? What is it about?” That’s the question you want a foreword to answer.

Well, this book is about life. Your life. It’s not fantasy, it’s realism. It’s the so-called realistic books that are usually fantasy. When you close the covers of The Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia, you intuitively know that you are not exiting an unreal world and entering a more real one, but exactly the opposite.

The best educational advice for life that I ever heard was my father’s: “Just be sure you don’t get all A’s in your subjects but flunk life.”

We humans are the only beings in the universe who can flunk life, because we have a free choice about what kind of life we will lead and what kind of human beings we will be, good or evil. We make these choices not, like angels, instantly and timelessly, but gradually, in each of our many big and little choices between good and evil throughout the drama that is our lifetime.

How do we become good or evil? When Plato asked in his Meno how human beings become good (virtuous), he suggested four ways: (1) by teaching (“knowledge is virtue”); (2) by practice (forming habits); (3) by nature (i.e., being born virtuous); (4) in some other way (i.e., against nature, by force). Most philosophers—Oriental as well as Western—give one of these four answers: Plato, #1; Confucius, #1 and #2; Aristotle, #2; Rousseau and Lao Tzu, #3; Hobbes and the “Realists,” #4.

All these philosophers are wrong, probably because most of them do not have children. Parents and children know the answer: by example. By having moral heroes.

That’s why reading great literature, next to meeting people, is the single most effective way to learn not to flunk life. Life is a story, and therefore moral education happens first and most powerfully through stories, e.g., through books.

The greatest book of the twentieth century, according to four different polls, is The Lord of the Rings. And the greatest children’s stories ever written are the Chronicles of Narnia (I dogmatically assure you of that!).

On the Shoulders of Hobbits is the logical conclusion from all of the above facts. Read it. It will help you fall in love with these two great works, their heroes, and their values. It will baptize your imagination and fertilize the soil of your soul so that you become the kind of person who doesn’t flunk life.

Louis Markos

Louis Markos holds a BA in English and History from Colgate University and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Michigan. He is a Professor of English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, where he holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities and teaches courses on British Romantic and Victorian Poetry and Prose, the Greek and Roman Classics, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien. He is the author of eighteen books, including On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, Apologetics for the Twenty First Century, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics,Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis can Train us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World, Atheism on Trial, and The Dreaming Stone and In the Shadow of Troy, children’s novels in which his kids become part of Greek Mythology and the Iliad and Odyssey. He has produced two lecture series on C. S. Lewis and literary theory with The Teaching Company/Great Courses, published 250 book chapters, essays, and reviews, given well over 300 public lectures in some two dozen states as well as Rome, Oxford, and British Columbia, and had his adaptations of The Iphigenia in Tauris of Euripides, The Helen of Euripides, and The Electra of Sophocles performed off-Broadway. He is committed to the concept of the Professor as Public Educator and believes that knowledge must not be walled up in the Academy but must be disseminated to all who have ears to hear.

Visit his Amazon author page at amazon.com/author/louismarkos

Louis Markos and Peter Kreeft, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012).

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Louis Markos

Louis Markos holds a BA in English and History from Colgate University and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Michigan. He is a Professor of English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, where he holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities and teaches courses on British Romantic and Victorian Poetry and Prose, the Greek and Roman Classics, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien. He is the author of eighteen books, including On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, Apologetics for the Twenty First Century, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics,Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis can Train us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World, Atheism on Trial, and The Dreaming Stone and In the Shadow of Troy, children’s novels in which his kids become part of Greek Mythology and the Iliad and Odyssey. He has produced two lecture series on C. S. Lewis and literary theory with The Teaching Company/Great Courses, published 250 book chapters, essays, and reviews, given well over 300 public lectures in some two dozen states as well as Rome, Oxford, and British Columbia, and had his adaptations of The Iphigenia in Tauris of Euripides, The Helen of Euripides, and The Electra of Sophocles performed off-Broadway. He is committed to the concept of the Professor as Public Educator and believes that knowledge must not be walled up in the Academy but must be disseminated to all who have ears to hear. Visit his amazon author page at amazon.com/author/louismarkos