The Adventurer as Hero: An Unlikely Hero
There is a scene in The Hobbit where Bilbo and the dwarves are being attacked by giant spiders. Bilbo is the only one with a stinging sword, and when the dwarves are helpless to resist the creatures, Bilbo uses it to fight for them all. One of the greatest pictures of heroism is a willingness to fight for those who cannot defend themselves.
In Truth Be Told, we get to see Norman’s heart for truth, a quality that—when challenged—is powerful in its vigilance, and valiant in its boldness. It is Phoebe who Norman identifies with—because even though she has a home and a grandpa and a dog, she’s lost something. She’s lost her mom, and it gives her a feeling of displacement. Norman knows all about that. He defends Phoebe against bullies. And he talks to her about the time in school when he was scared to eat lunch in the lunch room because of his own bullies. He says, “You know what got me through it?…I just kept telling myself that someday I'd do something really special...It made me work harder at being good at something.”
Norman is an unlikely hero; his quiet, unexpected strength comes from his willingness to act on behalf of others, to face a need or a problem and solve it. Norman’s manner and his actions are a way of proclaiming—“this person is valuable.” And he continues to face his own fears too. By the end of Truth Be Told, we see Norman becoming more of a leader in his relationship with Rita, because he’s not afraid to say of Shane’s gift, “Rita and I went in on it together.”
The Adventurer as Protector: Valuing the Small Things
Bilbo, as you may remember, has an adventurous Took side to him, and a very predictable and simple Baggins side to him. The simple part of him often reminds him of the comforts of home he’s given up by going on his adventures. But the reminder of home also serves to keep him grounded in the midst of his mission, so that the realities of treasure are viewed in their proper value when the adventure is over. Home is its own treasure, that no amount of costly jewels and golden things can buy. It is a quieter, hidden thing—like a hobbit hole in the ground—that needs to be recognized and protected.
Relationship is a journey—unpredictable, unexpected, and difficult. It gets mixed up in the “terribly complicated place” called the world; it gets distracted, and has to be fought for. Within Norman’s story is the continuing discovery of the message in Impossible Dream--that there is great worth in protecting beautiful things. In From the Heart, Norman learns to guard his heart’s loves, to guard the hearts of others, and to value and bring into safekeeping the preciousness of relationship. Sometimes the most courageous and heroic action is in keeping watch over hidden things, and Norman is championing this reality in the things he protects—like his love for Rita, and the old valentine—actions the world will never see.
The Adventurer as Brave: Expecting Courage
There were times Bilbo was traveling with the dwarves on their adventure, when he was less affected by low morale than the rest of the troupe. Sometimes he was even physically more capable of advancing their mission and rousing the troops than anyone else (when all the dwarves were locked in elves’ dungeons, for example). When that happened, Bilbo ended up stepping into the gap and thinking and working on behalf of the team.
Back in Episode 2, Norman was challenged to think big and be bold, and in Lost Without You he is challenged again. That challenge is wrapped within a danger, because it comes with a promise of good things for Norman—personal advancement and recognition. But it causes him to assess his actions and motivations for his work and for how he lives his life, and it proves to us that we are seeing a very different Norman than we have ever seen before. Towards the beginning of the film, it is Norman who motivates the team, saying “Nothing’s impossible…Something like this dropping in our laps on a day like today might seem like bad timing, but we can’t assume anything.” It is Norman who invites Rita on an adventure to New Mexico, in search of a dog named Sandy. And it is Norman—the treasurer of the O’Toole Foundation, who buys Sandy. This is the most initiative we have seen from Norman thus far, but it is not without its hesitancies and fears. When Norman finds himself in a situation where he needs Sandy to help with a rescue, he tells her, “I know what it feels like to think that the world is full of loud noises and big surprises that you don’t like getting. And you just wanna be safe someplace where you think you won’t get scared again. But, you know, sometimes all it takes is for somebody to tell you that you’re special…Look, my point is, thinking big and being bold only seems hard until you take the first step.” Norman’s boldness finds its bravery when he steps out on behalf of others. And in his act of serving others—adventuring with Sandy to rescue his friend, Oliver—Norman finds courage.
Norman Dorman is a juxtaposition of names—valiant warrior struggling against dormancy. This is the same dichotomy that exists in the name Bilbo Baggins—sharp conviction, and yet ill-fitting adventure. It means that our characters, though having their own weaknesses, must walk bravely, expecting strength to come even when it is not then felt. This is the kind of courage that is brave in the face of unpredictable plot twists, when there is no guarantee of safety and stability in the journey—and there is absolute guarantee of being changed by the end of it. It is the reality every adventurer faces…until finally there is nothing for it but to step out and start walking the path.
The Tale of Norman Dorman—and Bilbo Baggins: Part I | Part II | Part III