The Adventurer Comes Into his Own
Advisor & Friend
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the following words as spoken by Bilbo to his nephew Frodo in The Lord of the Rings—a series that grew out of the world of The Hobbit. “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” “Keep” is an old name for a place of defense, a fortified tower that was the last protection, the best assurance of safety. When Bilbo uses the words, “keep your feet,” it is like saying: protect your way and maintain the foundation of your defense, so that when every other means of safety is exhausted, your resolution remains, and you are standing firm.
Bilbo, after all his journeying, has become a mentor and advisor to a fellow adventurer. Norman too has learned from his experiences; how to love and value even the small things, how to fight for goodness and truth, and how to step into courage and stand firm. Now he too is passing on his knowledge of the journey. If you remember back to For Christmas, Oliver described Norman with these words; “And you have a dear, shy little guy for a brother, who thinks this world is amazing and would walk across hot coals to find something new and beautiful in it, if you asked him to do it.” It was Oliver who told Norman to “get a bigger broom” and fight for Rita’s heart, by showing himself to be the man of character Oliver already knew he was.
But by Higher Ground, it seems that Oliver has forgotten his hope; there has been no word from Shane for months. Now Oliver is needing advice—at the poker table, he is no longer able to bluff the real state of his heart. Norman intentionally initiates a conversation with Oliver. He steps into the problem and addresses the hurting heart, meaning that he is sympathetic to the pain of his friend. He passes on his own knowledge of trouble in the journey, and the reality that one chooses to keep hoping and singing even when hope seems lost. It is the foundation of living—the final resolution. Gabe chooses to sing, even when it appears Hattie is dead. And though Norman doesn’t presume to give the answer to Oliver’s heartache, he gently shows Oliver how to stand, to “keep [his] feet,” as Bilbo would say—by standing on hope and faith.
Oliver once told Norman that Rita was looking for a hero, and in Home Again, Oliver says of Norman, “I would trust him with my life.” Those are the kind of words you hear as commendation of a fellow associate, but also of a leader, a warrior, a hero—and a dear friend. It is high praise, even as Norman’s adventure takes him once more through the difficult terrain of relationships.
At one point in The Hobbit, Bilbo takes a precious jewel from the treasure hoard and claims it for his share of the treasure. His action is unknown to the rest of the dwarves, though it is a jewel that is eagerly sought by them all for the sake of their leader. Bilbo uses it for noble purposes, and though the complexities of the circumstances don’t allow for an easy conclusion, the jewel becomes a way for two opposing parties to consider peace. When it becomes known that Bilbo has taken the jewel, the dwarf leader is enraged, and considers himself no friend of the hobbit—though Gandalf the wizard commends him.
Norman is in a similar predicament. He has taken a treasure that did not originally belong to him, a share of the love that Bill and Sunny had gifted to Rita, and that Rita had brought to the world and chosen to give to Norman. Sunny tells Norman, “[Bill] used to be her hero…Now she has two.” It reminds Norman that part of being a caretaker of something is taking care of all the responsibilities that come with that role. He has longed to be a hero to Rita—and now he is, and is suddenly faced with watching all the things his treasure concerns. The vase was the main treasure of Home Again, but Rita is the true treasure for Norman. Their relationship reveals the more hidden values of love and care that encompass Norman and Rita’s bigger journey to belonging. “Things don’t always end up the way we plan,” Norman says.
A Continuing Journey
A good storyteller shows honestly and sensitively how much a character must fight for a good thing, when (sometimes even against all odds) he or she is proven faithful, steadfast, and courageous. We understand the gravity of such a story because it is real life—we conquer a fear and find it before us again; we battle to victory and then turn only to see our weakness. But God loves to work in the midst of our quandaries. He takes the situation we think cannot be positive and shows us it is exactly where we need to be; he delights to bring good out of impossible situations. When goodness triumphs, we feel the enormity of the victory; it is the best kind of joy.
Bilbo finds himself in the dragon’s halls at last, having to face the beast alone. The hall he is following will take him there, and he is close enough that he can feel the dragon’s heat and hear the dragon’s breath. But he cannot yet see the creature. Tolkien writes, “It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”
These victories, and the satisfaction of a hard-fought, courageous decision is why we read good stories, and why we watch series like Signed, Sealed, Delivered. They help remind us that we are adventurers, often engaged in battle, and that it is worth fighting for truth and for light. I will tell you what happens to Bilbo, but I will not give away all—for The Hobbit speaks for itself, and is worth a reading. After Bilbo fights his battle in the tunnel, his level-headedness keeps him from staying enchanted by dragon gold, and enables him to seek peace from those who could easily become enemies (even if it means defying those stronger than himself). His love of the simple pleasures of home and good company, as well as his keen sense of goodness itself, secure him a reputation of courage and wisdom. And he comes home in the end—though not unaffected by the journey.
I can tell you what happens to Bilbo, but I cannot tell you what happens to Norman, though he has proved himself a courageous adventurer. The best assurance I can give is that whatever the journey, it will mean change for Norman. Journeys have a way of showing us what we are made of, and of bringing to the attention of ourselves and others the grit of our spirit and the conviction of our souls. Gandalf says of Bilbo that “There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.” I like to think this is just what we can expect of Norman.
The Tale of Norman Dorman—and Bilbo Baggins: Part I | Part II | Part III