Exaltation Of The Humble

Diminishment versus Aggrandizement a theme that is deeply valued in the Lord of the Rings. Regarding his own book Tolkien once wrote,

"There are of course certain things and themes that move me especially. The interrelations between the 'noble' and the 'simple' for instance. The ennoblement of the ignoble I find especially moving." [Letters p.220]

"I loved them [the hobbits] myself since I love the vulgar and simple as dearly as the noble, and nothing moves my heart [beyond all the passions and heartbreaks of the world] so much as 'ennoblement'." [Letters p.232]

At the very heart of the story is the theme of 'the littleness of the simple defeating the mighty and proud'. A theme very much at the heart of the Gospel starting with Mary in her magnificat: 'He has brought down the mighty and raised the lowly'. [Luke 1:52]

The very stature of the hobbits being only 3 foot 6 inches or hallings is a paradoxical outward projection of their inner value. They are simple folk who work the earth, grow crops, smoke pipe weed, love eating and telling stories. Sometimes rather insular in their daily life from the outside world of the big lolk they don't worry themselves with the politics or concerns of the Wise but live day to day and enjoy life to the full.

But their true worth resides in their loyalty, courage and inner strength; and ability to recover from traumatic experiences which flows from being very child-like.

"He who cannot become like a little child will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven." [Luke 18:17]

"I thank you Father for hiding these things from the learned and the clever, and revealing them to mere children." [Matthew 11:25]

In terms of the overall story in the Lord of the Rings and related back-history, they were never considered in the great plans of the wise or powerful, but it is they who shake the foundations of the earth and save the world. This essence is understood by Elrond;

"Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere." [LotR p.264]

"God chose the foolish things of the world that He might shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world, that He might put to shame the things that are strong..." [cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5].

It is precisely their innocence and natural humility in not desiring power that gives them longer resistance to the evil influence of the Ring and hence makes the mission to destroy it possible, though at the end Frodo does succumb.

But Frodo is still the principal hero. The tale is essentially Frodo-centric as the Quest is what drives the story and surrounding movements. And as is discussed in depth later in Mercy and Forgiveness, even though Frodo fails, and succumbs, his mercy and love is what saves him and the Quest. His humility in offering forgiveness and love towards Gollum is essential in the overall scheme. Tolkien talks of this;

"His humility [with which he began] and his sufferings were justly rewarded by the highest honour: and his exercise of patience and mercy towards Gollum gained him Mercy: his failure was redressed." [Letters p.326]

Tolkien also mentioned;

"I myself saw the value of hobbits, of the need of putting earth under romance, and on providing subjects for 'ennoblement' and heroes more praiseworthy than the professionals : ...we are all equal before the Great Author, qui deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles [who humbles the proud and exalts the humble]." [Letters p.215]

Once again, all of the main heroes carry this humility and healthy distrust of self.

Even with extraordinary power and wisdom, Gandalf the Grey and also the more confident Gandalf the White carries a distrust of self that leads to deeper wisdom. This is demonstrated when Frodo offers the One Ring to Gandalf at Bag-End. Gandalf exclaims;

No! with that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.' His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. 'Do not temp me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not temp me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me." [LotR p.60]

This passage highlights an attribute that is critical to healthy distrust of self; that is knowledge of self. Gandalf knows his weaknesses and strengths and this leads to true humility. He will not even risk the possibility of entering into a situation where the Ring could have power over him and hence cause his downfall. Gandalf ensures that he never actually touches the Ring itself.

Gandalf enforces this virtue with his comment to Denethor regarding the Ring;

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