I spent New Year’s Day watching the extended edition Lord of the Rings DVDs. January 3 is J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday. For years now I’ve made it a personal tradition to reread Tolkien’s masterpiece during the first week of January—or at least to begin the journey: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit….” After the movies were released on DVD, I allowed for a visual trip to Middle Earth to honor the occasion.
This year Tolkien fans have the added pleasure of the first installment of The Hobbit playing in theaters. I reviewed the new film for Liberty and Vine. The overarching theme is that the simple, even foolish, characters will eventually triumph over the wise and the powerful. In The Hobbit movie, Gandalf explains his choice of Bilbo thus: “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.” It’s not a bad thing to keep in mind at the beginning of this new year.
The other thing that struck me in The Hobbit was that the ragtag band of dwarves going off to battle the dragon Smaug numbered twelve, with their leader, Thorin Oakenshield making thirteen. Bilbo was chosen in part to offset that unlucky number. But as I thought about the movie, my imagination couldn’t help playing with the significance of this, particularly when one of the dwarves reported that neither their relatives in the Iron Hills nor the elves would be willing to join this quest. Thorin declares, “I would take each and every one of these dwarves over the mightiest army. For I called them and they came.” The description of another ragtag band of twelve followers came to mind.
The beauty of great literature is that there’s always something new to discover. I’m a confirmed lover of fiction, because I like my truth woven into a good story. Tolkien’s works never disappoint, no matter how many times I return to them. Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations have only deepened the layers of enjoyment. And so, along with Tolkien fans around the world, I’ll be raising a glass of something tomorrow night at 9:00 for the simple toast: “The Professor.”