He was five, snuggled up close beside me on the loveseat for our ritual bedtime story, sucking his thumb.
"Are you sure?" I asked him. "There aren't any pictures in this book. Just a lot of words."
He nodded, so I opened the worn paperback and began reading...
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."
Every night I'd quiz him on what we had read the time before, worried he was too young to understand, but he always knew every answer and wanted to continue. Middle Earth had come alive for him, so night after night, chapter by chapter, we journeyed through it together.
It was my second, maybe third, visit. My brother had introduced me to Tolkien and his hobbits almost two decades earlier and I became obsessed, buying ceramic statues of Bilbo and Gandalf, pewter wizards, and tiny castles. I had dragon bookends and calendars depicting beautiful Middle Earth-inspired artwork. I embraced my nerdiness.
It was the artwork that hooked my young son. He wanted to learn more about that beautiful, adventurous world.
I traveled there again with my younger two, and many years later we watched the Lord of the Rings movies together. So when I heard about The Hobbit movie, I crossed my fingers they would all agree to see it with me, once again journeying together into Middle Earth.
And they did. This past Sunday evening, my Christmas wish came true.
But sitting in that theater I got much more than my Christmas wish. Watching the movie, I was reminded of why I became a Tolkien nerd so many years ago and still want to share it with my kids.
There's the obvious...the adventure, the magic, the intricate world he draws us into. His genius still amazes me.
There's the theme of good versus evil...with good victorious, of course. And the characters, who forge friendships by focusing on commonalities rather than differences, a great lesson for all of us.
There's Bilbo's story itself, how he ventures out of his comfort zone and discovers strengths he never knew he possessed. Now I can identify with Bilbo even more. Like me, he is middle-aged, settled, comfortable, and doesn't believe there is anything special about himself ... but he sets out on an adventure anyway.
He sticks with it even when others doubt him, determined to help the dwarves even though he doesn't really know them. Compassion is the key to his bravery and loyalty. As Gandalf says...
“I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.”
When you boil it all down, the elves and the magic and the battles between good and evil, that single message is what you're left with. It's the reason I love The Hobbit, and why I wanted my kids to know it and love it, too. Because even the smallest of us, the seemingly least remarkable, is capable of kindness and love to one another. And I do believe that is the greatest power of all.