Last Friday, as all good fans of J.R.R. Tolkien should know by now, marked the 75th anniversary of the release of There and Back Again, better known as The Hobbit, in Great Britain. And Saturday (Sept. 22) was Bilbo Baggins' birthday: the book's main character would have probably celebrated his eleventyfirst all over again.
While publisher Houghton Mifflin is cashing in with a plethora of commemorative products related to the book, Tolkien fans eagerly await the Dec. 14 release of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first of three movies based on The Hobbit that director Peter Jackson plans to release over the next three years.
In the meantime, I'm planning to reread the book (for the sixth or seventh time) and revel again in the magical world of Middle Earth, where the struggles of hobbits and dwarves and dragons and men reveal much about personal growth, hard things, enduring hope, and the questioning paths we follow here on the more ordinary earth.
Gandalf the wizard is one of my favorite characters, perhaps because I wish for wisdom and am also sometimes guilty of overthinkinking. After Bilbo offered Gandalf a cheery "Good monring!" early in their acquaintance, the bushy-browed wizard replied:
"What do you mean? Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"
Bilbo responded that he meant all of those options at once, plus a good day for a pipe of tobacco -- but his insouciant demeanor took a turn when Gandalf invited him to join a potentially dangerous expedition:
"I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging," Gandalf said, "and it's very difficult to find anyone.'
Knowing hobbits, Bilbo was not surprised: "I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!"
In time, however, Bilbo learned that there are things more important than dinner (or even second dinner), and he found himself embarked on an adventure that would not only change his life, but also bend the course of his world.
You never know where an adventure will lead. As two of the dwarves searched for shelter for Bilbo's traveling party, Tolkien observed "There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after."
Sometimes we find pure excitement, sometimes confusion, sometimes opportunity fronted by danger.
At one point, Bilbo found himself alone in the dark, in an extremely tight spot, debating what to do: "'Go back?' he thought. 'No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!' So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.”
I suspect we all know that feeling. There are times when our hearts are "all of a patter and a pitter," times when we must find the gumption to go forward with an apt mix of caution and courage, wherever the path may lead.