What The Hobbit Teaches Us About American Values

The-Hobbit-Bilbo-BagginsWe went to see The Hobbit last night.  Some of you know that I call my husband ‘my hobbit,’ so this movie and anything dedicated to the hobbits in JRR Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth will always be extra special to me and mine. There may be spoilers ahead.  You are warned.

If there is one thing that The Hobbit exemplifies, it is the value that Gandalf certainly thought highly of in all of the Hobbits–“Common Sense.”

Before the Founding Fathers put together the Constitution, they studied the works of great philosophers, governments and religious ideas.  Then they discussed very widely their ideas.  One of the pamphlets distributed to the public on this discussion was a very important work (still lauded today by Historians) called Common Sense, by Thomas Paine.  There is no doubt that the Founders thought that all the ideas they put together, that brought us to a revolution, were ‘common sense.’  These ideas, they thought, were those that all men could relate and agree to, be they educated or not.

Tolkien had fashioned the Hobbits as the ‘salt of the Earth’ people in his world.  They are people that work the soil, love the food they produce from it, make merry with it, love friends and family, and shun adventure.  They want nothing more than a good, simple life.  They live what we call “The American Dream.”  Living a life where we are able to enjoy our own good, hard work.

When Gandalf calls Bilbo on this adventure with the dwarves, the first thingthe-hobbit-dwarves-13 that touches  Bilbo’s heart about them is their love for their own, unique hard work:

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves.

This Bilbo understood.  He was able relate to others through the things they have in common, even when there was plenty, including clear racial divides, that made them very different.  Common sense people are able to grasp the common links among races to make the necessary connections to overcome those divides.  Amazingly enough, Bilbo was able to do this even with enemies:

Trolls are slow in the uptake, and mighty suspicious about anything new to them.

Bilbo was able to trick the Trolls into talking until dawn by using what he knew about food. Hobbits are well known for their love of food and giving his expert advice on how to prepare roast (dwarves) gave the company the time they needed to escape. But Bilbo’s ability to adapt through common experiences didn’t stop there:

Bilbo pinched himself and slapped himself; he gripped on his little sword; he even felt in his pocket with his other hand. There he found the ring he had picked up in the passage and forgotten about.

“What have I got in my pocket?”

Bilbo was able to play out a game of riddles with Gollum (and since neither of them had intended to accept the agreed fate if they lost the challenge, the adaptation of his riddle was perfectly acceptable).the one ring

The dwarves were struck again and again by the surprising aptitude of Bilbo, since he was neither a skilled craftsman, a warrior, nor a great wizard.  What he knew of maps hardly came into use, but what he lacked in ability, he more than made up for with ingenuity and adaptability.  The dwarves came to respect him for that, even though it was exactly what Gandalf had expected from Bilbo.

Common Sense, as written about by Thomas Paine and JRR Tolkien alike, have always been underestimated values in the world at large that are especially appreciated in America.  It is why the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings did so much better here than in Europe when they first came out.  It is a value that needs much praise and attention if it is to continue.  The attention it will get from a movie as well made and a story as well told as the Hobbit is much needed at this time and age.

4 thoughts on “What The Hobbit Teaches Us About American Values

  1. Your post reminds me of Gandalph’s words regarding evil, and darkness. That it is the little things, Hobbits, or our simple daily choices and acts, that are most effective in holding it back. Very good observations on common sense being a common value, too, I really like what you’ve said here.

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