Happy Birthday, Prof Tolkien!
Today it’s JRR Tolkien’s 129th birthday. What a beautiful age!
I’ve been on a journey with Tolkien for three years now. I’ve read pages from his work almost every day, but never like this year it gave comfort.
Tolkien’s work is deeply about Hope, and still, it is seldom consolatory. He tells us about Hope as a powerful feeling, but it is so only if we act upon it. ‘Hoping’ isn’t a passive experience in Tolkien’s stories. People hope, therefore they act.
Tolkien’s activism is one of the themes I love the most about his stories. Doesn’t matter what happens to you, doesn’t matter what kind of odds are against you, doesn’t matter how dire the situation – doesn’t matter how powerless you feel, the possibility of acting is always available, by choosing. Our choices are our actions, and by choosing and acting, we live our life.
By mere chance, I was reading The Return of the King last March, when we went through our lockdown here in Italy. The chapter of the Siege of Gondor touched me surprisingly deep. Never before had I felt that sense of entrapment, the suffocating sensation of immobility. The characters were enclosed in the city, with the prospect of war and enemies gathering in front of their gates. There was nowhere to run. Stay and stand was one of the many possible choices, and that was the one the story encouraged to take.
I thought then, that while I was going through my lockdown, Tolkien probably remembered his experience in the trenches. He too was trapped, then, he too had the choice to despair or to stand.
That simple experience of reading the chapter that he wrote, in such different circumstances, and still so similar, has bonded me to him and his work more than ever. And somehow it inspired me.
Tolkien always encourages us to act. Things may change, so acting is important. Besides, if we act, we will probably cause a change. There is no action without Hope. But Hope dies if action doesn’t follow.
And we don’t have to be heroes to action upon Hope. The smallest choice makes us warriors.
Tolkien reminded me that. It made a small but important difference for me.