Long before any cartoons, long before any movies, and long before any graffiti, there was Bilbo Baggins. And long before Bilbo, there was J.R.R. Tolkien.
I don’t remember whether I was 17 or 18 when a friend pressed a copy of The Hobbit into my hands, with the whispered secret knowledge that “Bilbo Lives!” In a way, it was her small revolt against the ubiquity of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land and its byword of “May you never thirst.”
It’s funny, now, when I think back 50 years later, that I don’t even remember her name, that rebellious friend who started me on what has become a life-long quest for well-written fantasy, science fiction, and the various sub-genres we now lump under the heading of Sci-Fi (or sometimes, Sci-Fy).
Today I came across an old, somewhat weathered paperback copy of The Hobbit, and I was instantly transported back to that day in the hall of Highlands High School when I first heard of the book subtitled There And Back Again.
“Bilbo Lives!” never became the great rallying cry that “Frodo Lives!” turned out to be. Maybe The Hobbit came too soon, or maybe The Lord of the Rings had better press. Either way, had there not been The Hobbit, there would have been no Lord of the Rings (LOTR), in the same way that had there been no monthly The Strand magazine, there would be no BBC series called Sherlock.
And there most certainly would never have been that great classic of modern literature,
But I digress.
The Lord of the Rings
I we were in the early years of the reign of King George Jr. when The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters. Shrub (so-called by Texans because he was the little Bush) hadn’t yet embarked on his take-no-prisoners approach to the environment, but already I could see the parallels to the Orcs tearing down trees in order to fuel the flames which would birth the great army of Uruk-Hai that would soon ravish the land and enslave millions if Frodo failed in his mission.
After watching The Fellowship, I came out of the theater wanting to be Arwen (Liv Tyler), elf-maiden, and fierce warrior. And to be honest, the fact that she (like me) had the hots for Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortenson, didn’t hurt, either.
17 years later, the Eye of Sauron has reopened. This time it has taken the form not of the ultimate evil but rather that of complete incompetence: Donald Trump as Gollum. Slimy, hate-filled, monomania wrapped in fascism and served up via a Russian samovar. Toxic masculinity at its absolute narcissistic worst.
Where is the Frodo Baggins who will destroy the ring in the fires of Mt. Doom? Or will he fail, and the country itself be driven there by Gollum?
Please. Vote sensibly in the mid-term elections this November.