Lessons in Manliness: The Hobbit

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The Hobbit has been a favorite of children and adults alike since its publication in 1937. It used to take a backseat to The Lord of the Rings, but with the movie being released last summer, interest has been renewed in Bilbo Baggins’ adventure.

When it was originally published, it was put into the children’s category and even won prizes for best juvenile fiction that year. Tolkien himself, however, said that a simple tale like The Hobbit can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, making it a great story to read with your kids.

In the book, the reluctant Bilbo Baggins is recruited by a wizard, Gandalf, to join a group of dwarves on an adventure. There are 13 dwarves in the party (an unlucky number, hence the recruitment of Bilbo) who have been exiled from their home, the Lonely Mountain, by a dragon. In that mountain are mounds and mounds of treasure, which is what attracted the dragon in the first place. Nobody has yet had the gall to try to fight off the beast and reclaim the mountain, so these 13 dwarves, plus Bilbo, make a run at it. Together they cross valleys, mountain ranges, murky forests, and raging rivers in order to make their way back home to the Lonely Mountain to fight the dragon.

There are many lessons we can glean from The Hobbit, but today we’ll focus on just a few of this classic tale’s most salient takeaways:

1. You can aspire to and achieve greatness no matter who you are and no matter your stage in life. This sounds extraordinarily like a cliché, but do you really believe it? Contrary to what the movies would have you believe, in the book, Bilbo was 50 years old when he set out on his adventure. (So was Frodo, in fact, in Lord of the Rings.) He had “little to no magic,” and “didn’t like to be called audacious.” He was a thoroughly middle-aged fellow who had no interest in spicing up his life. He lived comfortably, ate and drank much, and enjoyed his cozy home. He even said, “We are plain, quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

And yet, Bilbo ultimately becomes the hero of our story. He often complains and longs for home, but he keeps pressing on. He even gets to a point where he can feel the desire for adventure calling out from within him. We’ve written about the importance of taking full advantage of your 20s, but the potential of your middle and elder years shouldn’t be squandered either. Will you be an empty nester or retiree with a quiet, comfortable life? Or will you say “yes” to whatever adventure or dream is trying to make itself heard from within your spirit? When you feel yourself trying to say that you’re not the kind of person to start your own business or that you’re too old to travel the world, harness your inner Bilbo Baggins. Say yes, take the first step outside your front door, and keep on going.

2. A great leader knows when it’s time to step back and let go. There are plenty of leadership lessons we can learn from Gandalf, but his wise style of mentorship is what stands out most. Gandalf travels a good distance with Bilbo and the company of dwarves, but ultimately leaves them to their own devices. He says, “Indeed we are now a good deal further east than I ever meant to come with you, for after all this is not my adventure.”

A great leader and mentor will certainly assist his followers, especially at the start. But there comes a point when the leash has to come off. It’s difficult because it means you have to trust the person with whatever task you’ve charged them with. You’re giving up control of the situation, which is a tough thing for humans to do. Think about what a great coach does, though. He teaches and guides as far as he can, but ultimately he’s not the one who can win the game. He has to put his trust in his players to actually make the plays. The same thought rings true of parenting. The instinct is to just hold a child’s hand for ever and ever, and yet there comes a day when you have to let go, even if it means allowing them to make mistakes and giving them the space to find their way through those mistakes on their own.

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