Spiderman swings in, webs shooting out of his wrists. Dr. Strange jumps through his sparking interdimensional portal. A hobbit sneaks past, invisible, wielding the power of the One Ring.
No, that’s not right. But what if that had been? How would “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy have ended if the fellowship had followed Boromir’s plan and brought the ring to Gondor to harness its power for themselves — for the cause of good? Or what if the hobbits had kept the ring in the Shire, never bringing it to the Elven council in the first place?
Tolkien’s story has a very different message from the ones often pitched in popular superhero movies and action adventures. Instead of celebrating the heroes who gain power and use it for good, Tolkien’s hobbits are a celebration of ordinary folks who eliminate the power imbalances altogether.
Jessica Hooten Wilson, writing for American Magazine, says, “Instead of hobbits, we celebrate supermen and avengers. Would Clark Kent be a hero without his power? Would we still see the life worth imitating in the farm boy who decided to be a journalist, loved Lois Lane and took care of those around him?”
In our political climate, two main powers rage against each other, both grabbing for more leverage. They champion just causes, but a false divide has taken hold of our system.
New York Times writer Nate Cohn calls our political state a form of sectarianism with “two hostile identity groups who not only clash over policy and ideology, but see the other side as alien and immoral. It’s the antagonistic feelings between the groups, more than differences over ideas, that drive sectarian conflict.”
A friend of mine recently moved to a new town and was told by a local, “You’re welcome in this town, as long as you voted for Trump.” I overheard a different conversation where an acquaintance stated that “all Republicans are idiots.” These two statements cast aside an opportunity to discuss and learn from other viewpoints and instead default to the power of one party to rule them all.
For us, the ordinary folks, we can’t afford to get swept up in this conflict because what we lose — family, friends, romantic relationships, community connection, diversity of thought — is too great. Last month, Pew Research released data showing the growing hostility between Democrats and Republicans. They found that 72% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats view the other party as dishonest, and 72% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats view the other party as immoral. And several studies show that differing politics are a dealbreaker in romance too, according to Time.
In contrast to this picture, Wilson writes of Tolkien’s hobbits, “Tolkien depends on an audience that will refuse a compromise that exchanges one’s delight in small, ordinary things for the provision of great power.” Are we refusing this compromise? Or do we see enemies instead of neighbors when we hear of their political views? When we let our political party decide who our friends and romantic partners can be, what have we lost?
Many of us today are experiencing political homelessness in the space between the two powers. According to Pew Research, 27% of Americans hold unfavorable views of both Democrat and Republican parties — the highest amount we’ve seen in decades.
If we are to follow the hobbits’ example, we may want to take a note from Bilbo, who said to Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
We all must embark on the Road, but we have to keep our footing rooted in our values of community and diversity of thought. In our world of superheroes, some of us still celebrate the ordinary hobbit, not because of a hobbit’s ability to sway the world with power, but because hobbits keep the ordinary things — the unifying parts of community — alive. They fight for balance instead of power.
If we are to navigate through this political divide, we can’t afford to lose sight of the humanity in each of our neighbors, regardless of their political leanings. Our two political parties will push their agendas with polarizing rhetoric, but we, the politically homeless, must work to build unity in communities, find common ground, listen to diverse opinions and support the respectful discussion of ideas.
As Elrond says, “Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”