Wednesday, 15 July 2015

How people (and hobbits) can "find strength they didn't know they had" with books and good company

The End of Your Life Book Club
Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club is one of my best-loved non-fiction books, rightly described by Edmund De Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes, as "a true meditation on what books can do".

It is Will Schwalbe's account of the books that he shared with his mother in her final months of living with cancer, and about one third into the book, he relates how, upon returning home on one particularly bad day and unable to sleep, he searches for comfort in his childhood copy of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Schwalbe soon encounters the scene in which protagonist hobbit Bilbo and his dwarf companions find themselves lost and separated in a dark wood. Tolkien's wisdom at this point of the book could not be much more poignant:

That was one of his most miserable moments. But he soon made up his mind that it was no good trying to do anything till day came with some little light.

When sharing his experience of revisiting The Hobbit with his mother the following day, he tries to explain why Tolkien, his childhood favourite, still has a certain power over him:

"I think it's because it shows that people–or hobbits, as the case may be–can find strength they didn't know they had"

Tolkien, throughout The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and his wider work and writing, dispenses a trove of guidance for finding courage when all seems lost (or distant, at least). In The Return of the King, Arwen hands Frodo a diamond that was hanging around her neck and says:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

"When the memory of the fear and the darkness troubles you, this will bring you aid"

This reminds me that there is a way through difficult and memories, be it with the help of material objects or, say, the memory of happier times. Another wonderful quote is to be found in The Fellowship of the Ring, when Gandalf tells the protesting Frodo ("Why did [the ring] come to me? Why was I chosen?) that:

You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.



If you are in need of some extra courage, or a nudge in the direction of mental strength, you could try turning to Tolkien for an hour. Alternatively, perhaps jot down the quotations above for a day with more trials than today.


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