“There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I’m making my second pass through the classic tales of Middle Earth and the One Ring (I will not tell you how many passes I’ve made through the movies). It’s been a good 6 years since I’ve been this way, and my ever-so-slightly older eyes are seeing new things everywhere. Good literature does this to us; the best Literature, the Bible, does this to us beyond measure. It (if you can bear with the comparison) is not unlike the One Ring, and seems to form itself to our exact size and grow with our years.
One thing is showing itself to me more plainly than ever: the hobbits are the true wonder of Middle Earth. When we read Tolkien, we are quite taken with the strange races and even stranger characters of the wide world. But in the end we, like Tolkien, and like all his mighty characters, are most fascinated with hobbits. Their hidden courage is one such fascination to all the wise and wonderful of Middle Earth, but most of all to themselves.
We may even come to find no small measure of ourselves in them, which brings our quote into play. Courage lodges in the heart of believers. Ever so deep it lies hid, it’s there. God’s children, like hobbits, need strong circumstance to draw it forth. We hear of the martyrs with awe, and wonder if they were really men of like passions with ourselves. For they seem to be elevated, having powers we don’t. We’ve fallen into a common error, one which Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis wrote into his own novels (and not without characteristic pithiness): “Like many men of his own age, he rather underestimated than overestimated his own courage.”
The key to the martyr’s courage is the very same that unlocks our own. The martyrs were ordinary folks like you and I who were called by God into extraordinary times. His power upon their lives rose in step with their need of it. Rest assured, if some great trial or suffering comes upon the lowliest of God’s sheep, they will find a lion’s roar within themselves more than meet to the task. Impossible times will, under God, produce more spiritual bravery than we ever dreamed ourselves capable of. For it is he who trains our hands for war.