I was seized by a desire to re-watch Fellowship of the Ring for the first time in some years. Possibility out of a sense of disappointment with how Peter Jackson has taken my beloved children’s book, The Hobbit, and made it unnecessarily epic in scale.
There is a wonderful book of historiography called Inventing the Middle Ages. It is a series of portraits of prominent medievalists and how they combined to shape our idea of the what the middle ages was. Was it a time of darkness? Of surprising richness? Was it a time of kings? Or of commoners.
Among the portraits was one of J.R.R. Tolkien. It acknowledged his work in translating and examining Anglo-Saxon epics like The Pearl and The Green Knight. But it also looked at Middle Earth and how it captured a very important aspect of the time, which was the great journeys taken by so many ‘little people’ – commoners and peasants – over great distances. Pilgrimages across continents and journeys like the Crusades even.
While not mentioned, for me, also, it was a differing idea of love. Courtly love was a later invention, something from the middle ages, but not from the early middle ages that Tolkien studied. Love was the love between friends.
My mother and I have differing favorite moments from the first movie, but with similar meaning.
Mine is early in the movie, when Frodo tells Merry and Pippin that he has to get to the town of Bree, after it has become clear that something big, bad, and scary is nearby and hunting them. Merry’s response is to say, ‘Right – Buckleberry Ferry.’
He doesn’t ask why or what the heck is going on. He responds in instant solidarity to a fellow ‘little person’ who is being threatened by the big forces of the world. He never asks himself if he will help or how much help he will offer – only what the best thing for his fellow man (well, Hobbit).
My mother likes towards the end, when Frodo tells Sam, ‘I’m going alone,’ and Sam replies, ‘I know you are and I’m going with you.’ Again, the absolute solidarity of ordinary people to accomplish great, yet little noticed things in the face of world changing events they can barely understand and hardly even see.