Bilbo Baggins almost passed on adventure. Who could blame him? Gandalf was excellent at fireworks, but very secretive about this plan. The dwarves showed up for an entirely unexpected party and the only thing certain about the quest was that the odds were against success. The dragon Smaug was able to point out more than one flaw in the plan.
And yet Bilbo went, was changed for the better, frequently was terrified out of his wits, and had the time of his life.
We read the book or watch the movies (a much longer experience) and assume that we would head out with Bilbo. Who would stay in the comfort of the Shire when adventure awaits? But adventures are the very thing we avoid in America because adventures are messy things and force us to create stories instead of consuming them.
The couch is more comfortable than a pony. But isn’t this too sad? How pathetic to think that we would miss some great deed and marvelous adventure! How dull our old age will become if we are not on the great adventure.
We are too hobbit-like: parody hobbits.
Hobbits are marvelous creatures whose virtues can become their vices. They are not tempted by great sins of power, but the small sins of comfort seduce them easily. They love food, warm beds, and jolly entertainments and this is splendid. At his worst, Peter Jackson’s portrayal of the hobbits of the Shire in Hobbit shows us the danger of taking these loves too far: hobbits can become parodies of themselves. Some of the Hobbiton folk in the films appear as merely jolly, fat, comfortable figures: blobs to serve as a colorful background to the characters with lines. God forbid that a hobbit become merely the characteristics we most associate with the breed.
It would be like an American becoming merely an American and ceasing to be . . . human. If we are not careful, television, comfy chairs, and delivery pizza will make us the spectators for the beautiful people who fill our screens. We must always be open to the possibility that our routine is killing us. That we have done a thing this way for years does not mean we should do it that way again.
Every day we look for the Lord’s return and this expectation should keep us from any complacent routine. I will do my routine today, but consider that at any moment adventure could beckon. I might be called to something new.
We become grifters.
Unexpectedly, the greatest foe to the good adventure is the bad one. The grifter moves from place to place like the ancient Vandals, sacking, looting, and pillaging. He or she becomes unfit for great deeds because they have become small villains. The grifter lives a varied life, but it is a life where everyone around them is burned as they pursue personal peace and affluence. They want the gold and the glory of adventure but cut corners. They will take risks for money, but this makes them mercenaries and not heroes.
Gandalf will never visit the house of a grifter, a Sackville-Baggins.
We are cowards.
Mostly we do not seek adventure because we are afraid. The steady paycheck seems less risky than the adventure, though the changing times may make the paycheck less steady. I assume somebody stayed at Kodak at the end of the last century instead of taking the risk on a place like Apple. As for any company with a name like Google . . . forget about it.
We must never confuse cowardice with duty. A brave man will do the right thing at great cost, but a coward will fail to do the right thing because of the cost. The coward cuts corners, longs for secrecy, and misses great adventure. Oddly, the coward will play very great odds, moving from get-rich scheme to get-rich scheme because each promises to be “the answer.” The coward cannot endure to the end of the scheme and is off to the next multi-level marketing firm or the pitch of the next “music man.”
The coward acts out of fear and so is often the prey of the grifter!
And so the circle is complete as the grifter preys on the coward who seeks comfort only to find that it is foolish old Bilbo who triumphs. Bilbo is afraid, but goes. Bilbo loves comfort, but endures discomfort. Bilbo takes a very great risk and follows it through all the way there and back again.
May we all do the same! Gandalf is calling, the Mount is waiting, the dragon is fierce but can be slain, and the road goes ever onward.