The Education of the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings

The amazing stuff I miss when I don’t get to attend Circe conferences. I am definitely going next year. It is already on my calendar!

As they approach the end of their long journey, Frodo and his companions are disturbed by rumors that the their beloved Shire is not well. They are even more disturbed when Gandalf tells them:


I am not coming to the Shire. You must settle its affairs yourselves; that is what you have been trained for. Do you not yet understand?


When I first read this passage, I was surprised. “That is what you have been trained for”? Training? What training had gone on? They had left the Shire on a quest, or perhaps better, a mission—to destroy the One Ring and save Middle-Earth from the domination of Sauron. Desperation drove them, despair dogged them, “chance” saved them. In fact, were not the hobbits involved in the Quest precisely because they were untrained, because they were simple and unspoiled? As Elrond said, “This the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?” In his movies, Peter Jackson makes this the central theme: The hobbits have the character and insight to correct the narrow pettiness of the great ones because of untutored simplicity. Can anyone who has seen the movies forget Sam’s impassioned speech that shames Faramir into letting Frodo continue the quest?


And yet Gandalf speaks as though the hobbits had been his squires or attendants, brought along to learn the ropes of being heroes. To me, Gandalf’s statement seemed forced, and Tolkien’s enchanting story faltered momentarily. Thankfully, the Travelers were up to the task of “Scouring” the Shire. But were they really prepared for this? How?


I was a teen-age Tolkien junkie. I have no idea how many times I read the Lord of the Rings in whole and part. This passage continued to bother me until I had been many years an educator myself and, in particular, until I began learning more about the history of education. As the Greeks and Romans knew, great stories which become lodged in the memory have a way of springing to mind unbidden as we try to make sense of our human reality. As I have over the past few years looked for ways to explain classical education to myself and others, episodes from The Lord of the Rings have spontaneously come to mind. I began to see more clearly how the journey educated the hobbits and prepared them to be the heroes the Shire needed.


Read the rest here.


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