JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings stories enumerate reasons we should esteem travelers. Travelers are the good guys out fighting evil in the world. Evil that is seeking to enslave and destroy them. Am I being overly dramatic? Maybe, but dramas are means by which we can conceptualize truths. So what can we learn about the choice to travel from The Lord of the Rings (and the Hobbit)?
Conventional wisdom says that by sitting at home we will avoid evil and the stuff around us will make us safe. In the Hobbit, when Bilbo goes on an adventure to slay a dragon, his friends and neighbors credit him with being eccentric at best and mentally ill at worst. I can personally attest to this as a true reflection of our own culture. The reactions of many of my friends and co-workers when I told them about my own intended travels were very similar to the hobbits. The sojourner leaves behind most of his stuff and walks into the unknown that most likely includes evil. Yes this is a risk but our conventional wisdom contains three lies.
Lie #1 Evil can be avoided.
Can we avoid evil by staying at home? Consider a person who never moves out of his parents house. Will she ever be able to learn and grow in independence and wisdom? If we never leave home, we trade one kind of evil for another. I do not believe that being a continuous nomad will keep a person safe either but to never leave is to be devoured by the evil of fear. That is an evil that resides in all of us. Also, external evil will find you whether you leave home or not. Depicted by Tolkien as the hobbits who stayed behind in the Shire, only to be invaded and enslaved. It was only those hobbits who had travelled outside the Shire and grown in strength and wisdom who could protect their home from the evil. Perhaps the idea of an external invader seems unrealistic to a modern person but evil in the form of disease or economic down turn are real enough. All we can do is seek to become strong and wise enough to handle these evils when them come.
Lie #2: Familure things keep us safe.
Home is comfortable. It is easy to confuse comfort with safety. Drinking alcohol also gives the sensation of comfort, but this should not be conflated with safety. I think we can also become drunk on the lulling comforts of home. Comforts like my TV connected to the right shows, my kitchen with available food, my bed with the soft sheets, my couch with the warm fuzzy blanket. Being in close proximity to modern medicine is comforting. Having access to a police force we can call in emergencies makes us feel powerful over evil. It becomes easier to stay home than to leave. Those comforts can blind us to our increasing dependance on them. Some of these things do make us safer but at the cost of inherent dependance that leaves us more vulnerable. Can we face the fear of having to live without them even just temporarily?
Lie #3: Our value is found in building up our home.
Bilbo was very reluctant to leave when first given the offer by Gandalf. He recited to himself all the things that were his job to stay and take care of at home. The stuff and responsibility of his home were dominating his life. The ring wraiths are one of the most disturbing concepts in the Lord of the Ring world for me. The wraiths were once powerful and even respectable kings but they accepted an ornament of power to try to increase themselves and that very object led to them decreasing into shadowy beings completely dependent on an evil master. What things in our homes give us a sense of power? Maybe the size of our home is important or the comfort of our cars. The internet? Our social media presence? How often have you heard the complaint about people spending too much time on their phones, updating “Fakebook”? I have not heard anyone say how Twitter was making their life more satisfying. Quite the opposite, mostly people complain of feeling more hallow and impotent. The layers of things we wrap around our lives may give us the feeling of importance, but we are slowly becoming enslaved and our true selves obscured from the world. Can we break our bondage to these things?
The truth is travel will not solve your problems. It is the power of our choices and gained wisdom from the journey which increases the probability of defeating the dragons. Hopefully, knowing the lies we might be believing about the power of staying at home will help us to see the power in choosing to get out there. Like the hobbits who returned home, when we voluntarily face the unknown and possibly even known evil we will become stronger. We come back from our travels armed with new knowledge and ideas. We can truly appreciate the comforts of home because we have broken our bondage to them. My own mission as a travel advisor is to help as many people as possible find these truths and return home wiser and more contented.
Samwise Gamgee is given an opportunity to look into the Mirror of Galadriel during his journey. Galadriel tells him that to look is perilous, that the mirror shows things that have been, are or might yet come to pass. What he sees is his home on fire and his friends enslaved. Sam then had to carry this vision as a burden with him for the rest of his quest. Consider laying aside your social media for the duration of your travels. Engage more fully with your traveling companions and the people you meet on the road. You cannot do much about what is happening with your social circle back home, so enjoy your time away unburdened by trying to live simultaneously in two places at once.
Tolkien threaded many lessons into his books. Probably there are more lessons to be picked out for the travelers. Perhaps bring a wise magical friend, this might be a wise travel advisor with the power of technology at her fingertips who can help you out of tough situations. That is for another post though. Share your thoughts and comments below.
Get out there.