In honor of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday, I’m reposting some old Tolkien-related posts. Enjoy!
If there’s a flaw to be found in the timeless masterpiece of high fantasy that is The Hobbit, it’s Bilbo’s dumb luck. Time and time again, Bilbo is saved or does the saving with nothing but a stroke of good fortune.
And yet the works of J.R.R. Tolkien are treated with all the reverence of sacred scriptures. I know I myself have always wondered, much like millions others I’m sure, how such an incredible story can repeatedly commit the flagrant sin of “deus ex machina”?
After reading The Hobbit to my daughter this past month, I think I’ve finally figured it out.
Tolkien was a veteran of The Great War, and he fought in The Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest battle of humanity’s bloodiest war. He personally witnessed death and devastation on a scale few others have in all of recorded history. He lost all but one or two of his friends in a single day.
Like Tolkien, I was once a young man who found himself in combat in a far away place. One day, my squad of twelve Marines was ambushed by about thirty Taliban soldiers, who had us pinned down in a wide open field and surrounded on three sides.
At the start of this gunfight, my team leader, who was right behind me in our patrol, was wounded (thankfully it was not fatal), shot by a marksman. We knew the Taliban deliberately targeted Marines with radios. My team leader had a radio, but so did I.
It’s something at which I’ve always marveled. I could have been targeted by that marksman just as easily as my team leader, being a radio operator. But I wasn’t. I did not escape unwounded because I was better prepared, stronger, or smarter than my team leader.
I just got lucky.
And that, I believe, is something with which Tolkien was all too familiar. He survived a battle that many of his friends did not, not because of skill or bravery, but because of dumb luck.
And that may be why poor Mr. Bilbo Baggins seemed to bumble and stumble his way along the adventure, because that’s how Tolkien saw himself in the war: a hapless little fellow out of his element, swept up in great events, surrounded by great people, and surviving when so many great warriors fell. It wasn’t lazy writing; it was stark reality.
What do you think of my analysis? Do you have a different outlook on Mr. Baggins’ incredible luck? Let me know in the comments!