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The Wisdom of Hobbits, Wizards and Lions: Part 3: On the Road

The Road Home

The Road Home (Photo credit: keeva999)

“Life is a journey” is one cliché all of us have heard many times. Equally true, but not heard nearly as often, is the saying that “life is a story.” In his book, “On the Shoulders of Hobbits,” Professor Louis Markos uses these two truths to frame his exploration of virtues as they are found in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

In the first four chapters of the book, Markos takes these journeys and stories and places them right in the middle of where they so often take place: The Road. Anyone who has read “The Lord of the Rings” knows that it is one of the greatest road epics ever written. In this it has much in common with such legendary works as Homer’s The Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, even Huckleberry Finn. “The Chronicles of Narnia,” while not a single tale of a long journey, contains many shorter stories involving all sorts of journeys, some intentional and some not. But long or short, all trips involve four parts: the lure or the call, the response to that call, the dangers and events encountered and finally, the end.

It doesn’t take much to lure us to the highways. We have a built-in restlessness that disposes us to go exploring, though some are easier to persuade than others. In Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” Bilbo, as the author points out, is downright resistant to any idea of leaving his comfortable Hobbit-hole or his beloved Shire, though Gandalf and a boisterous band of dwarves prove to be very persuasive. Shasta, in Lewis’ “The Horse and His Boy,” also resists the call of the road, but out of fear rather than love of comfort. Whether hesitant or enthusiastic, everyone feels the pull of the journey.

In medieval times travelers weren’t tourists in the sense we use the word today. They were merchants, soldiers, nobles or pilgrims and their journeys weren’t taken frivolously. Travel wasn’t as easy or safe as it is today. Good roads weren’t common, there were no planes, trains or automobiles, and there was a good deal of danger involved in leaving home. Taking to the road was literally an adventure in the truest sense of the word. The reason to go had to be a good one. In the ancient Hero tales there was usually a distinct “call” that the hero had to respond to. Gandalf called Bilbo and Frodo. In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, God called Abraham and Moses to grand journeys. But what about the common person?

If you’re alive, you’re on a journey. You weren’t called to it so much as thrust into it. You’re on the Road, and you have to face the challenges and dangers you’ll encounter along the way. Oh, there will be good things that happen on the trip too, things that Tolkien called “eucatastrophes”, those exhilarating moments when some disastrous event that seemed unavoidable is suddenly eclipsed by a surprising good outcome. But by their very nature, eucatastrophes can’t be planned or counted on. So what’s a traveler to do?

As in the great stories, so in life; one keeps on going. There is help, however. In Lewis’ “The Silver Chair,” Aslan the great Lion instructs Jill to memorize four Signs that will help her on her quest. “Remember, remember, remember the Signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night.” If that sounds familiar, it is because it was patterned after Deuteronomy 6:7 and 11:19 where God is instructing His people in preparation for their journey. God has given all of us Signs, or directions, in His Word. From the Ten Commandments, to the Mosaic Law, to the Sermon on the Mount, God provides us with instructions on how to travel the Road of life.

There’s something else we need to remember about the Road. As Markos puts it: “In The Lord of the Rings, the Road is more than a path: it is a character.” In other words, it is a living, active participant in our journeys. The way we interact with the Road tells us a lot about our view of life. Do we carefully observe the events in our path and try to understand what’s happening? Or do we push forward without a thought, trying to force the Road to bend to our will? Though the comparison isn’t drawn directly in the book, this idea of the Road as a character brings to mind the concept of divine Providence, of God’s careful guidance of our lives. This belief in a living Road is critical to our journeys. We must never lose that belief and fall into a “postmodern, existential nihilism that says that there is neither beginning nor end, that we are all adrift in a world without Purpose, Direction, or Call.”

Eventually, the end of the Road arrives and for our life’s journey that means death. Markos reminds us of Pope John Paul II’s observation that we are living in a culture of death today. The issues of abortion and euthanasia, the unrelenting violence in films, television, music and art, all point to a darkness creeping over our civilization. And though we may seem to welcome it, our society has a very bad case of thanatophobia: a primal fear of death. We obsess about health, spending billions of dollars on diet and exercise and medicine, all to trick ourselves into believing that we can be immortal through our own efforts, that our journey never has to end. But it does. The purpose of the journey is not to keep traveling, but to grow and arrive at the place the Lord of the Road has been leading us to. And thus:

We bring our years to an end,

as it were a tale that is told.     (Psalm 90:9, from the Book of Common Prayer)

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Posted by on April 7, 2013 in Book Review

 

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On the Road

This week I got my hands on a fascinating little volume at the local library’s ongoing book sale. “American Journeys, An Anthology of Travel In the United States,” (Travel Vision in association with the Exxon Travel Club, 1975) is a collection of excerpts from pioneer diaries, explorer’s journals and articles about travel in America from the late 1600s up to the lunar landing.

It includes pieces from such writers as Benjamin Franklin (describing his trip to, and first night in, Philadelphia), Charles Dickens (writing about a steamboat trip with his wife in 1842. He did not like it), Mark Twain (a description of a stagecoach trip, excerpted from his book “Roughing It”) and John Muir (recounting one of his long walks among California’s sequoia trees).

This book reflects an important characteristic of the American people; the urge to travel and explore. For over 200 years the call of the open road has stirred something in our souls. Even if it’s only a trip into town:

When labor is light and the morning is fair,

I find it a pleasure beyond all compare

To hitch up my nag and go hurrying down

And take Katie May for a ride into town;

For bumpety-bump goes the wagon,

But tra-la-la-la our lay.

There’s joy in a song as we rattle along

In the light of the glorious day.

From “Riding to Town” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1896.)

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Book Hunting, Grazing, History, Poetry

 

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Here We Go Again!

I’m back, folks. After 6 days and nearly a thousand miles of driving it’s good to be home. We had a great time with our friends and spent several wonderful hours with my mother and aunt in California. From there, we rolled into Laughlin, Nevada. After we arrived there, however, the rolling stopped. Donna hit a small jackpot playing video poker, but I mainly fed the penny slots. Hey, they were hungry!

Of course, I read. I made it about half-way through Dean Koontz’ “What the Night Knows.” I’ll go into more detail after I’ve finished it, but I can tell you all now this book is one of his best in a while. I also finished Charles Williams’ “The Place of the Lion” before we left and I’ll have a review up soon on that one as well.

It is good to be back, and I’m looking forward to writing and sharing ideas with you all in the days and weeks ahead.

Oh! How rude of me. What have you been reading while I was away?

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Authors, Book Review, What I'm Reading

 

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I’ll Be Back . . .

So, my wife and I are leaving for California in about 2 hours. We’re going to see my mom for Mother’s Day and also visit some dear friends. Then, on the way back to Arizona, we’ll be taking a detour through Laughlin, Nevada for a little R & R. Love the buffets there!

Was wondering what I was going to read while relaxing by the pool in Laughlin, but while returning a book to the local library, I found a practically new paperback copy of Dean Koontz’ “What the Night Knows” for a buck. Yes! One of my favorite authors and this is one of the best reviewed of his current works. God does provide.

In summary, for the next 5 days I won’t be posting much. I may steal some time on our friends’ computer but I can’t promise. You can count on one thing, though. I WILL be reading.

I’ll be back.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Notices

 

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Now THAT’S a Library!

Image Courtesy of Irish Welcome Tours' Flickr Stream

Image Courtesy of Irish Welcome Tours’ Flickr Stream

There’s been a bit of hoopla lately about creating a massive “digital library.” I don’t know about anyone else, but the concept doesn’t do much for me at all. Now, if you’d like to look at what some REAL libraries look like, follow this link over to Mental Floss and take a gander at some of the most beautiful libraries you’ll ever set eyes on.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Libraries

 

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