September 22 is “Hobbit Day.”
It won’t come as a surprise to any of my friends that The Lord of the Rings is my favorite work of fiction. It has been the one constant in my life as a reader. I could be on a John Irving kick (early in my college career), an Ayn Rand kick (later in college and early in my professional career), or a military science fiction kick (currently), but Professor Tolkien’s magnum opus is always waiting for me in my library, and picking it up to read it (which I do at least once per year) is like spending time with an old friend.
In the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings we’re told that September 22 is Bilbo Baggins’ birthday and — coincidentally? — the birthday of his cousin and heir Frodo Baggins as well. I think Prof. Tolkien has unwittingly given ammunition to practitioners of astrology as the two hobbits have a lot of similarities in their make-up despite the 78-year difference in their ages — for one, a restlessness, or a desire for wandering, that not even their closest friends share. Bilbo and Frodo are bachelors; Sam Gamgee, Pippin Took, and Merry Brandybuck only leave the Shire after their wives die.
Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.
So wrote St. Augustine in the first chapter of the first book of his Confessions. The two hobbits — who have no great honor in their own country — are restless, and I think not (merely) because of the Ring. Rather they were chosen as Ringbearers because of this restless nature, and even as the Ring passed away and its Master was defeated, the restlessness remained until they set sail from the Grey Havens and left this world (Middle-earth). Eru made them for Himself.
Of course, one won’t get any of that from reading the first chapter (“A Long-Expected Party”) of The Lord of the Rings. It shares the whimsy of the book (The Hobbit) to which it was originally intended to be a sequel, with only a little foreshadowing of the darker and deeper themes to follow. For today, then, we can join the hobbits in their feasting — open a bottle of Old Winyards, fill a pipe, and sit back to watch the fireworks. “Pray, hope, and don’t worry,” as Padre Pio (whose feast day is tomorrow) famously said. We can feast today (it is Sunday after all) and leave weightier matters for tomorrow.