Loneliness and Friendship, Love and Community in The Lord of the Rings
One of the things I noticed in my rereading of The Lord of the Rings this time was how much it was about loneliness and friendship (deep, abiding, soul friendship) as the antidote to loneliness.
Obviously the friendship of Sam and Frodo fits into that category, but many of the friendships described in the book are soul-mate level friendships (Gimli and Legolas, Merry and Pippin). Those who are so high as to be lonely -- Aragorn, Gandolf -- are actually close friends with each other. And Aragorn (in the end) is married to his life long love, while Gandolf goes off to talk to Tom Bombadil, in an unwritten side story:
'I am going to have a long talk with Bombadil: such a talk as I have not had in all my time. He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. But my rolling days are ending, and now we shall have much to say to one another.'
Bilbo, who is left behind at Riverdale, has a deep, melancholic loneliness:
I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see.
But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door.
But at the end, Bilbo and Frodo - the Ringbearers! along with Sam, who bore the ring for a shorter time - are reunited and sail to the gray havens together, with the elves. And Gandolf brings Merry and Pippen to share the road home from the docks with Sam, so that he need not be lonely:
'Yes,' said Gandolf; 'for it will be better to ride back three together than one alone. Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are evil.'
I think for Tolkien, friendship is the ultimate strength, the ultimate good, the ultimate defense against evil. When loneliness strikes (which it does, to most of the main characters) it is friendship that ultimately prevails.
Sam (who is more servant than friend, in truth, but who's loyalty is rooted in friendship) carries Frodo up Mt Doom when Frodo can go no father. One of the most poignant moments of the novels comes at the end, after the ring has been destroyed, and Frodo is expecting to die at any moment:
I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.
Connection and Community
One of the biggest flaws (in my personal opinion) of Peter Jackson's great adaption of LotR is his leaving out of the scouring of the Shire. Because essentially, it is in the reclaiming of the Shire that Tolkien gives us his greatest advice, his greatest lesson. For it is not fighting that wins the war against Sauron, it is the destruction of the One ring. And it is not the great King Elassar (Aragorn) taking his throne that brings peace back to Middle-earth, it is the reclaimation of community by the people. And this is best showcased in the scouring of the Shire:
'Raise the Shire!' said Merry. 'Now! Wake all our people! They hate all this, you can see: all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don't at all understand what is really going on. But Shire-folks have been so comfortable for so long they don't know what to do. They just want a match, though, and they'll go up in fire.'
And they succeed! The community of friends come together and rid the Shire of the "big folk" who have taken over, including the "Big Boss," Saruman. And because Saruman doesn't have a real friend in Wormtongue (who he abuses), he is killed by his servant.
As Sam reminds us in The Two Towers, “There is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for."
Friendship. Connection. Community. These are the things Tolkien's characters love. (And also the good green wild places of the world. There is a strong ecological theme in the books, which was beautifully portrayed in the movies.) And love is what motivates the characters, what keeps them going, despite the peril. (Especially Frodo, as the ring eats more and more into his soul.)
There is good in the world, in our own lives. Even when life is hard, beyond measure, there is always love:
The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.
There is always love, growing greater with every breath we take. Despite our grief, despite our sorrow, love surrounds us. And love is worth fighting for. Love is worth losing everything for. Love is worth more than all the bright glittering things of the world.