Confession: I did not actually care for The Fellowship of the Ring. The other two, yes. Return of the King has so many fist-pump-and-cheer moments, and The Two Towers was my favorite. (I know. I am the only person in the world who thinks this. I can only chalk it up to the fact that I really like trees. And Faramir. Who is so much cooler in the books than the movies.)
But Fellowship…not so much. Current theories for why include too much description of walking, I hadn’t yet gotten used to Tolkien’s writing style, not much happens in the book that isn’t in the movie, or I’m a terrible judge of literature and probably also a terrible person. Pick your favorite explanation.
My friend Thaxton was trying to change my mind and convince me that the opening chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring are not, in fact, the most boring things Tolkien ever wrote. To prove his point, he pulled out a quote by Tom Bombadil about the infamous garden-guarding Farmer Maggot: “There’s earth under his old feet and clay on his fingers; wisdom in his bones, and both his eyes are open.”
Feel free to just read that again and appreciate the beauty of it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
To me, what makes this line even more amazing is the fact that no one else would have described Farmer Maggot that way. I mean, I sure wouldn’t have. For reference, here is how he was depicted in the movie:
Meet the plainspoken, small-town Hobbit farmer who chases young hooligan rascals off his land. He’s got a walk-on role where he helps Frodo and company get to the forge, and that’s pretty much all we know of Farmer Maggot.
That and Bombadil’s lyrical assessment of his character, which goes so far beyond his appearance, job, and the shell of personality he presents to acquaintances that it stopped me cold. The hobbits reacted in pretty much the same way, and the narrator notes their surprise that Bombadil “seemed to regard [Farmer Maggot] as a person of more importance than they had imagined.”
Did you catch that?
Guys. Guys, listen to me. Everyone you know is Farmer Maggot.
What you see about them—what you think you know about them—is probably not even the most remote glimmer of who they really are. First impressions and convenient labels aside, the walk-on roles in your life are real, actual people with hopes and fears and strength of character that you may never understand.
It made me wonder: If we could really see people, if we stopped to appreciate what they’re worth, how would our lives be different?
Chances are, everyone around you—from your neighbor’s kid to your overbearing coworker to that celebrity you hate to the Facebook “friend” who you don’t really know—has something beautiful about them, something that would sound like poetry if you could capture it in words.
It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by G.K. Chesterton (who is easily the Inkling I would have been best friends with—sorry, Lewis and Tolkien): “I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a story.”
You can read that again too, if you want. It’s a different kind of beautiful, one that strikes you as profound the first time, then settles over you with uneasy conviction. Because I don’t think of people that way. I don’t treat people that way, not often enough.
So, this weekend, I thought about some of the people I know and wrote a sentence for each of them. The kind of thing I would never say to them, but might say about them, particularly to someone who didn’t quite understand why I appreciated and admired them.
Mostly, though, the words were not for other people. They were for me. They were a reminder to look for God’s grace in others and see who they are and who they could be. (Also possibly a handy reference to turn to when those friends and family members irritate me for one reason or another.)
It was a really helpful thing to do. I’d suggest trying it. Just take a few minutes and write some sentences. Or look around a crowded room and try to see everyone there as a real, complex person and think about what that means. Or get to know someone you initially dismissed or judged. Or pray for a few friends and family members by name, lingering over each one longer than you normally would. Do something, anything, to remind yourself that the people around you matter in a very deep way.
Could I have called this the Tom Bombadil Exercise? Sure, but then I wouldn’t have been able to use the word “Maggot” in a blog post title, and this opportunity will probably never come again.
But seriously, I think it draws attention to the fact that most of the people around us seem very ordinary. There’s nothing particularly glamorous about them. About you either, probably. Certainly not me. (I am so much like a simple, boring, good-hearted hobbit that it’s ridiculous.)
But there’s so much more to me, and to you, and to everyone else you meet. There’s something wise or brave or gracious or beautiful deep down in their bones.
And they are of more importance than you ever imagined.