Today is Christmas eve! Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, the date should be somewhat important to you? Why? Because on this day did Bilbo give unto Frodo a coat of mail and a knife, so small to men but large as a sword to a hobbit. Did you think I’d forgotten about The Lord of the Rings? Never. But not much happens in late reaches of fall. Winter has to come for the company to set forth from Rivendell. So I figured I should talk about The Lord of the Rings and Christmas, cause it’s sort of important. And yes, this post is happening on a Monday instead of a Wednesday. I was going to post it on Christmas? Ha! And Wednesday would be too late. Regular schedule next week.
If you’re just now seeing one of these, this is the third post I’ve made so far as I read The Lord of the Rings along with the calendar. Basically, The Shire calendar is used in the books for all dates (outside the appendices). It corresponds with ours, excepting more regular months, so the dates given are meant to be read as our dates. And I read the events of a day on that day. For instance, today is the day before the Fellowship leaves Rivendell. Bilbo takes Frodo aside after the fellowship has been settled and gives him his mithril armor and Sting. I didn’t even notice this the last two times I did this, but he’s giving Frodo presents! The core of the books is, to some degree, present-giving. Bilbo got the ring as a gift from Gollum for winning the riddle contest – in the first editions of The Hobbit. And that’s what he told everyone for years, because he felt guilty taking it from Gollum. Gollum wanted the ring as a birthday present. Frodo gets it as his gift from Bilbo for his birthday. So now, immediately, I have stumbled on a parallel I’ve never noticed this directly until now: Gollum and Frodo are doppelgangers. They both receive the rings as gifts (sort of), while Bilbo wins his directly. In Gollum’s culture people received gifts for their birthdays; in Frodo’s, people give them away. The ring passes through people as a gift or a treasure, trying to get back to Sauron. So there’s this disturbing idea that any old mathom lying around the house could be a treasure, as in this case it was. And it’s not surprising to think that Gollum and Frodo mirror each other – the book makes that fairly clear. They’re both in thrall to the ring in a way they cannot really escape. But for them to so closely mirror each other so early, so quickly – for it to be foreshadowed so severely – well that’s just disturbing.
And anyway, Frodo is hobbit Jesus.
Seriously. He sets out on Christmas with a gift for all good people of Middle-Earth, but he has to be tempted, hounded, and sacrificed in order to give his gift. The ghastly thing about LotR is that is shows what might happen to a messiah if he or she didn’t die when they ascended. Frodo gives all he has and then is little more than a shattered shadow of himself, lying in bed on the anniversary of his stabbing and generally unable to come back to the mundane world. It doesn’t help that in his eyes he is something of a failure. Gollum and Sam were the two who stayed true to their purposes. Without either of them, the ring would likely have been found by an orc or something in the Mordor wastes and taken (eventually, after the orc tried it on and tried to become a warlord) to Sauron. But it is Frodo’s saintly decisions, his goodness – taking Sam, saving Gollum – that allows his success, whether or not he physically casts the ring into the fire.
What else can we learn from the fellowship leaving on Christmas? Well, Christmas has always been a festival of lights, because it comes near (or on, before it was co-opted in some cultures) the winter solstice. It offers hope and a reminder that the sun and its heat will return. This all assumes northern hemisphere of course. Mithras, the god whose holiday Christmas really is, was actually the sun god for his culture, and winter was his death (though also possibly his birthday? I dunno. Gods, man). It’s the return of light to a land covered in darkness.
This should sound familiar. Many people (hobbits) don’t know it yet, but Middle-Earth is in shadow. In fact, Sauron and the war of the Ring marks the final march on light by shadow – evil is never destroyed in Middle-Earth, but it becomes something we’re more familiar with, feelings in people, rather than the monstrosities made by Morgoth in the first age. I talked the last few times, it seems, about evil. But the fellowship’s leavetaking forces us to consider hope.
That’s really what the novel is about anyway, right? Hope doesn’t really take reference to what you want, or what you are afraid of. Not in the novel. It exists on its own, as a force that can be marshalled to greater effect than armies. Later on we’ll see Strider call together armies of many nations to die at the gate of hell, just to distract someone for a few hours. That they don’t is hope’s final gift in Middle-Earth: for those who hope, someone comes, just as, in the Christian tradition, after generations of hoping Christ came.