Sports Column: Of Hobbits, hunting and Thanksgiving

In just a few weeks, the first of the trio of Peter Jackson’s long-anticipated film interpretations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is scheduled for release. Carrying with me a certain amount of both fear and hope, I will be at a theater to watch within a few days of its Dec. 14 opening. Hope because Jackson is a masterful filmmaker, and it will almost certainly be a well-made and delightful film on many levels. Fear because Jackson has already shown willingness to undermine some of Tolkien’s most important themes and ideas in order to promote his own ideologies — which are often at complete odds with those of the author.
Some of Tolkien’s important ideas swirl around two big themes for Vermont this week: hunting and thanksgiving. Though it would be inaccurate to say that hunting plays a large roll in Tolkien’s works, there are some memorable scenes that refer to harvesting of wild game.
As those who have read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” may remember, Hobbits — a diminutive branch of the human race — live close to the earth. This is symbolically suggested first in that they eschew the wearing of shoes and instead keep their bare feet in contact with the soil, and second that they live in underground houses: “holes in the ground,” as the first sentence of “The Hobbit” tells. They live an agrarian lifestyle, devoting much of their time to the growing and eating of food. And while they do not hunt purely for sport — that is, they do not kill for the sake of killing — they do learn at an early age to be handy with simple weapons. Young hobbits are adept at harvesting rabbits and squirrels with a quick throw of a stone, and they play many other throwing games that mimic hunting skills. This turns out to be a crucial and life-saving skill for young Bilbo when he must face the mob of angry spiders to rescue his dwarf-friends.
One of many memorable meals in “The Hobbit” is a delicious meal of rabbits, hares and sheep, shared with eagles atop an eyrie. The hunting eagles supply this wild game, and the dwarves cook it. The dwarves also attempt to hunt for their own food in Mirkwood Forest some time later. After many wasted arrows they manage to bag a black squirrel, but it tastes terrible. They also shoot a buck, but they cannot find it. The buck was apparently driven their way but other hunters somewhere nearby in the forest (a common experience for many Vermont hunters.)
The hobbits Sam and Frodo also have a meal of roasted rabbit in the woods of Ithilien, hunted for them by their temporary traveling companion Gollum. Aragorn, one of the great human heroes of the later tales, is said to be a good hunter who knows how to live in the wild. The elves of Mirkwood Forest are also shown to be as fond of hunting as hobbits are fond of gardening and eating.
But, while there are many idyllic aspects of the indefinitely sustainable agrarian lifestyle of Hobbits, Tolkien also makes it clear that all is not perfect in the Shire. The biggest problem is that hobbits have lived in peace and prosperity for so long they take it for granted. They live with a sense of entitlement. They have ceased to be appropriately thankful for the abundant provision of the land. They have lost their sense of dependency (or interdependency) on others and on the earth. (It is worth noting that with the exceptions of the “Unexpected Party” at the start of “The Hobbit” and “The Long Expected Party” at the start of “The Lord of the Rings,” the other memorable meals enjoyed by the hobbits are provided by the hospitality of others.)
There is an important moment in “The Lord of the Rings” when the hobbits Sam and Frodo are guests of Faramir — another human hero with great woodcraft. It comes time for a meal and Faramir and all his men bow their heads in a prayer of some sort: a moment of silence and thanksgiving before a meal. “So we always do,” he tells Frodo. “We look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.” Faramir and his men live in the midst of hardship, danger, loss and scarcity, yet they still maintain this practice of looking beyond themselves.
Frodo is appropriately embarrassed and even a little ashamed that his own people no longer have such a tradition. Unlike Faramir, they have much abundance to be thankful for, and yet they do not take time to express their gratitude. And this may be one of the reasons they almost lose their homeland. It is only when the hobbit heroes travel out of the Shire and experience both the hardships of the world and the generosity of others — they experience both the interdependencies of the world and also the fragility and tenuous nature of life — that they learn thankfulness, and are able to return home and teach others.
This “message” certainly rings true to me. Americans, by and large, have much to be thankful for. And we have much to remember in terms of dependency. Some could argue that hunting and gardening are two of the most important traditions to remind us of our dependency on the earth. I would add that the Thanksgiving holiday — if it truly leads us to take thanksgiving seriously — may also be one of the most important traditions in helping us to preserve so much of what we have to be thankful for. A few hobbit heroes helped remind me of that.

Share this story:

More News

Bernard D. Kimball, 76, of Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Bernard D. Kimball, 76, passed away in Bennington Hospital on Jan. 10, 2023. … (read more)

News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Share this story: