Of Birthdays and Hobbits

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Today is my birthday. I’m not the most enthusiastic fan of big parties and crowded celebrations. For instance, I would absolutely hate Gatsby’s legendary parties, too much noise, too many people, the alcohol though is a plus. There is one birthday party in particular I would love to attend, or even throw myself. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit, a hobbit who knew how to appreciate the simple pleasures in life: good food, a good book and a cosy home.

The Fellowship of the Ring, part one of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, opens with a celebration, a stark contrast to all the darkness that will follow. Bilbo Baggins is about to celebrate his eleventy-first birthday, and everybody stands amazed at how well time has treated him. Frodo Baggins, Bilbo’s adopted nephew, shares a birthday with his uncle. Frodo turns 33 years old, a very important birthday for Hobbits as it is their coming of age. It is a rather funny coincidence that both Ring bearers share a birthday, but if literature has taught me anything, is that there’s no such thing as coincidences in literature.

Bilbo’s birthday party is a big hit, all the Hobbits are amused, Gandalf’s magnificent fireworks steal the show, and Bilbo Baggins magically disappears after having said his goodbyes to the Hobbits of the Shire. He leaves Bag End to Frodo, along with his Ring, the one Gandalf later discovered to be the One Ring of Power, forged by Sauron himself in the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor. Symbolically, birthdays are a time of rebirth and change: Bilbo finally lets go of his Ring, after having it in his possession for nearly sixty years, and Frodo unknowingly takes the first step of an epic journey that will leave him scarred for life. The Ring has a history with birthdays: it corrupted Smeagol into murdering his friend Deagol, after claiming that the Ring was rightfully his, as a birthday gift. I love how the One Ring of Power circles around birthdays and tries to corrupt them. It is as if the Ring feels the charged energy of potential change. Either that, or Sauron never had a proper birthday party and made it his life mission to destroy birthdays…

Unfortunately, no Hobbit party for me, even though I have to admit that a Hobbit-trilogy marathon is a possibility. In real life, birthdays aren’t that extravagant, they are ordinary days. If we’re lucky we get to celebrate them with the people we love. Birthdays are just simple days on the calendar, nothing too symbolic about them, mostly because there is no Ring of Power forged by Sauron (that we know of…).

It’s easier for me to feel excitement over the birthday celebrations of fictional characters. Yes, knowing that Bilbo Baggins’ party was the talk of the Shire for years and years to come, fills me with more joy than the possibility of my own equally successful birthday party. My reasoning is a bit weird: I know of Bilbo’s whole story. I was there when Bilbo left his cosy hobbit hole and joined Thorin Oakenshield and his company of dwarves. I followed their path, all the way from Rivendell to Mirkwood. I talked to Smaug and stole the Arkenstone. I fought in the Battle of the Five Armies. I travelled all the way back to the Shire and spent a lot of wonderful years there. I travelled back to Rivendell and then to the Undying Lands, into the West. I read all about Bilbo’s adventures. I can appreciate the significance of his eleventy-first birthday since I know how his story started and how it ended. I know that this particular birthday is just a little piece of his puzzle.

In real life, we never know. We never know which birthday is the happiest, the laziest or the most boring. Since I’m not a character in a trilogy, I know not what happens next. Now it’s all a haze of wishes and worries. It would be wonderful to be able to detach ourselves, even for a little while, and skim through our lives. “Oh look, this wasn’t that bad after all. It was just a rough patch!”. But the story is still writing itself and the road goes ever on and on.

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