No Thanks, Wizard

It’s funny how our perception of things changes as we get older. We can read the exact same book we read as a kid and come away with a completely different assessment. The characters we found delightful now seem annoying. The characters we thought were terrible now seem reasonable. As we grow up, our maturing standards provide a different lens through which to view the world.

That’s what happened with me and Gandalf. (Yes, I’m still thinking about that Hobbit/LotR movie marathon. It was a lot of hours, folks. So much walking, so many battles.) I first saw the LotR movies when I was in high school, and I viewed Gandalf the way most people probably did—a wise wizard, a sage guide.

Now, as an adult, I have a bit of a different view. As we watched the movies, I saw him being, quite frankly, remarkably unhelpful. Maybe it’s all that pipe-weed he enjoys. Maybe it’s because he’s basically ancient so the others look like toddlers to him (and who explains their plans to toddlers?).

I don’t know. I can only speculate. But it seems to adult me that Gandalf loves to make cryptic statements before vanishing. Like, “hey guys, danger will come when you least expect it. Try not to die. Gotta go. Be back later.”

Yes, I know. He has important wizard-y business to attend to, fighting evil in his own way. But a great communicator he is not.

To start with, he invites people to Bilbo’s home, without his permission, where they eat all his food. Let’s be honest, that alone would be grounds for banishment from my life. Call me Southern, but those are some seriously poor manners right there.

And at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo tries to give the ring to Gandalf. The wizard responds by practically yelling at him, telling the hobbit not to tempt him with the ring.

Like. Yo, Gandalf. You’ve literally just told Frodo about the ring. He’s brand new to all this great-evil-linked-to-a-piece-of-jewelry stuff. Maybe give it a minute before you yell at him for showing trust in you?

But the scene that fully elicited my “say what now?” face (if you know me, you’ve no doubt seen that face before) happens before a battle, when one of the comic relief hobbits (Pippin) tells Gandalf, “I didn’t think it would end like this.”

Guys. He’s a scared little Shireling. He’s facing a major battle against powerful evil. He’s looking for reassurance, for encouragement. What does Gandalf say to him? Well, it basically amounts to “don’t worry, Pippin. Death isn’t the end. It’s just another path.”

Ya’ll. That is not the encouragement anyone wants when they’re going into battle. They don’t want to hear philosophical musings about the afterlife. They want to hear, “We’ll show those foul creatures the sharp end of the blade. I’m with you. We’re in this together.” But the truth is, Gandalf isn’t with anyone. He is not a team player.

It’s not something I really noticed before. But this time, both my husband and I were less than impressed with the eccentric wizard. Yes sure, sometimes he graces us with a quotable gem, but most of the time, Gandalf is not reliable and is off free-styling while the rest of the group is struggling to survive.

I’ve always been independent. I can appreciate freedom and autonomy more than most. I adore poetic, quotable statements. But I guess in my thirties I’ve come to value kindness and consideration more than fancy words. I’ve learned to treasure people who can be relied upon, the ones you know will have your back.

Maybe it’s silly to value kindness and honesty in the midst of a desperate war against evil. After all, Gandalf fights with great power and he saves their lives many times. But even Gandalf points out, “It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” An interesting comment from someone who isn’t exactly skilled at those small acts of kindness.

All I know is, if I needed someone, if I was in trouble and could call on someone to help me or just give me a pep talk . . . yeah, it wouldn’t be Gandalf.


Worth Fighting For

(If you’re a regular reader, never fear: Word Nerd Wednesday will live on. It’s just been moved to the first Wednesday of every month.)

I don’t know about you, but for my husband and me, the holidays often involve movie marathons. This year, over the Christmas and New Year holidays, we decided to fully commit to the concept and watch all the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies. Yes, all of them. The extended editions. I know. That’s a lot of hours but I don’t regret it one bit.

There’s something immensely moving about beautiful cinematography and epic quests. Martin Freeman’s interpretation of Bilbo will never not delight me. (That man should’ve won all the awards!) But one character always captures me most: Samwise Gamgee.

A few years ago, I wrote about the scene in which he nearly drowns. (You can read that here.) I can watch a million, touching death scenes and feel next to nothing, but that scene practically gets me blubbering into my coffee.

This time, though, there was another scene that caught my attention. In The Two Towers, as Sam and Frodo are edging closer to Mordor and the ring is slowly sucking the life out of Frodo, the two hobbits talk about the great adventure stories they heard growing up.

Sam: “I wonder if we’ll ever be put into songs or tales.”

Frodo: “What?”

Sam: “I wonder if people will ever say, ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.’ And they’ll say ‘Yes, that’s one of my favorite stories.’ ‘Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.'”

Frodo: “You’ve left out one of the chief characters – Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam.”

Sam: “Now Mr. Frodo, you shouldn’t make fun. I was being serious.”

Frodo: “So was I.”

I love that scene. Why do I love that scene? For one thing, it’s one of the only times Frodo explicitly acknowledges what Sam has done, the contribution he’s made to their mission. Most of the time, Frodo is too busy nearing the end of his sanity to recognize it. Or being mislead by Gollum. (Newsflash: when your best friend tells you someone is up to no good, BELIEVE THEM. Ahem.) So to see him acknowledge Sam is heartwarming.

But mostly I love it because of what it says about Sam. Specifically, he thinks Frodo is joking when the ring-bearing hobbit talks about Sam as an important part of the story. Doesn’t that say so much about what Sam thinks of himself? He doesn’t see himself as important, as vital to the story. All he knows is that he made a promise and he’s going to keep it.

And he’s not wrong: in contrast to the others, Sam’s actually quite average. He’s no human king with elf gentility who’s running from his destiny. He’s no elf prince with grace and extraordinary skill with a bow. He’s no dwarf warrior who runs into danger like a battering ram.

Compared to his companions, Sam is just an average hobbit. Except when it comes to loyalty. Unlike his stature, his loyalty is giant and his commitment unmatched. And while the others understand why the ring must be destroyed, I think Sam sees it through a different filter: home. He knows that great evil is never satisfied, devouring everything it can reach, even his beloved Shire. And it’s that love of home and loyalty to Frodo that keep his hobbit feet moving toward great evil, going into battle with not much more than a frying pan (and wielding it with the skill of a Southern woman, I might add).

It’s not surprising that a writer (J.R.R. Tolkien) would write about the power of story. This scene is especially poignant in that regard because Sam is thinking about future generations who may hear their story and be inspired by it, as he and Frodo were by the stories of others before them. He starts out with a narrow view of what needs to be done: accompany Frodo. And over time, his view grows into a broad concept of how their mission may be remembered.

On every step of their adventure, Samwise follows Frodo right into the darkness. And when Frodo’s strength fails him, just steps away from the fires of Mt. Doom, Sam doesn’t wax poetic about the nature of evil. He doesn’t tell him the world will end if he doesn’t summon his strength. No, he reminds Frodo of home—of the strawberries with cream and the green meadows. He reminds Frodo of those things worth protecting by reminding him of what hobbits love and appreciate.

I have to admit, when it comes to the kingdoms of Middle Earth, I relate more to the elves, with their love of ancient wisdom, gorgeous waterfalls, and affinity for vegetables. But my husband is pure hobbit. There’s nothing he loves more than good food and a comfortable home.

Maybe that’s why I adore Samwise so much. Because I see much of my human in him. Like Sam, if I were called on a great quest, my own Samwise would be right there beside me, even if it meant going into danger and having to eat lembas bread for days on end.

I hope you have someone like that, someone who will walk into the darkness with you and remind you of all the things you hold dear, all the beautiful things worth fighting for. Because the only way evil loses is if you remember what you’re fighting for. The only way evil loses is if you hold onto the people you love. Love and friendship and home—as Samwise reminds Frodo, those are things worth fighting for.


Word Nerd Wednesday: Time to Soar

Welcome back to Word Nerd Wednesday! I trust you’ve all finished off those Thanksgiving leftovers and are being fully swept up into Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa preparations. Today’s word nerd story is about being swept up into something rather similar.

Melody is a wonderfully talented fourteen-year-old. Musically gifted, she’s been playing cello since she was a child. And as is the case this time of year, her school has a holiday recital, and Melody has a solo. Since she’s incredibly shy, it’s the first time Melody has had a public solo. She’s understandably nervous, and her mother is practically terrified for her. It seems to take ages before it’s Melody’s turn, her nerves building backstage. Finally, she takes her place on stage, sucks in a deep breath, and begins playing. The audience is transfixed, the beautiful notes soaring over them as Melody loses herself in the music, her hours of practice carrying her through her performance flawlessly.

Afterward, Melody’s mother is in tears from the beautiful performance. She’s never heard her daughter play like that. “Note by note, Melli flew us to a beautiful place,” she murmured.

“Melli flew us” = mellifluous (mel-LIF-loo-us), meaning smooth, lyrical, or sweet. Melody’s mellifluous playing touched people in a way that only music can, taking them on a beautiful journey. But this adjective doesn’t only refer to sounds. From the Latin words for honey and to flow, it can also refer to sweet-tasting foods or anything that has a pleasant rhythm and flow, like poetry.

As Melody would no doubt tell you if she were a real person, sharing with people can be unnerving, even terrifying. But we are each gifted in specific ways. Melody’s gift is music, a special ability to elicit mellifluous notes from her cello and send them soaring. And when she summons the courage to share her music, people are touched by it, their lives improved by her offering.

Whatever your gifts are, there’s no time like the present to breathe new life into them through study and practice and then share them with the people around you. It is, after all, the season for giving. You never know what good may come of it.


Word Nerd Wednesday: Use Your Words as a Weapon

Happy Word Nerd Wednesday! Today’s story is about a battle, the kind of battle you might know very well.

Marissa is a hard-working, intelligent woman. She’s confident, and she knows who she is. These traits have attracted the negative attention of a man named Calvin. He regularly makes disparaging, belittling comments about her. Always wanting to take the high road, Marissa tries to ignore him, telling herself his comments are just childish taunts. But then, Calvin starts making negative reports about her to their boss.

“This has become war,” Marissa tells herself. She finally realizes that it’s time to step into battle. She will not let anyone diminish her. So she carefully creates a plan and takes aim, as she finally fights back against her enemy Cal.

“Enemy Cal” = inimical (in-IM-ih-coll), meaning hostile or having the disposition of an enemy. It isn’t until Marissa acknowledges Cal’s actions are having a significant negative influence that she realizes it’s time to fight back.

Sometimes ignoring someone is the right choice. But other times, when the other person’s actions become inimical and begin to have a significant, negative impact on your life, it’s time to step up and defend yourself before it’s too late. That’s the power of words, to label someone’s actions in such a way that you are able to see clearly and feel compelled to act. For Clarissa, labeling Cal her enemy gave her the clarity she needed to see it was time to act.

It’s admirable to take the high road, to turn the other cheek. But it’s also important to be able to see when someone is acting in a way that is hostile to you and your future. You and your life are worth defending. Even against an enemy named Cal.


Word Nerd Wednesday: Against the Currents

Happy Word Nerd Wednesday! Today’s word is especially pertinent to the world today. And it starts with a situation in Lena’s workplace.

Lena’s new manager seems like a smart guy but he’s misinformed on a few details. In a meeting, he declares information Lena knows for a fact to be false, crediting one employee with a brilliant new idea when it was actually the work of one of Lena’s team members. Unwilling to let the misinformation stand, Lena speaks up to set the record straight, giving credit to the correct coworker and going against what her new manager is saying.

“Against the say” = gainsay (gain-SAY), meaning to contradict, oppose, or deny. In our story, Lena gainsays her manager regarding the true originator of the new idea. In essence, she speaks truth to power. It’s not an easy thing, speaking up against one person, much less an entire group. It requires an unequivocal certainty of what is true and the determination that speaking up is absolutely necessary. Sometimes such actions come at a significant personal cost.

So is it worth it, to gainsay those spreading misinformation? Lena’s coworker certainly appreciates it. Those who earnestly seek truth instead of bandwagons will always appreciate the gainsayers, those who go against strong currents to illuminate other perspectives. It doesn’t mean those who speak up to contradict information are always right.┬áBut the only way a society can grow and evolve is to allow those with opposing viewpoints to be heard.

It’s why free speech is so vital. History has shown us that silencing those who disagree is a first step toward a disturbing future. It’s important that anyone, even you, has the ability to gainsay authority. Use your power wisely.