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Writing a Green Sun: 6. Stewardship
"The Fallohides, the least numerous, were a northerly branch. They were more friendly with Elves than the other Hobbits were, and had more skill in language and song than in handicrafts; and of old they preferred hunting to tilling. They crossed the mountains to the north of Rivendell and came down the River Hoarwell. In Eriador they soon mingled with the other kinds that had preceded them, but being somewhat bolder and more adventurous, they were often found as leaders or chieftains among clans of Harfoots or Stoors. Even in Bilbo's time the strong Fallohidish strain could be noted among the greater families, such as the Tooks and the Masters of Buckland."
Simple sociology and economics and ethnography compose the necessary foundation to any interpretation of sexuality in Tolkien, but they are not sufficient for a full analysis. The role of mystical and spiritual powers are also implicit in any such account, and are usually presented by Tolkien as a combination of blood inheritance and individual character. Bilbo is the harbinger of change. He is not, however, a random event. A thread runs through all of the stories - The Hobbit makes reference to the Old Took within a page and a half4, and the last words from Bilbo's mouth in LOTR are "Hullo, Frodo!…Well, I have passed the Old Took today! So that's settled. And now I think I am quite ready to go on another journey. Are you coming?" (The Grey Havens, The Lord of the Rings). Bilbo and Frodo's lives are set within an oblique narrative of the Old Took, and their actions and choices must always have some kind of reference to the playing out of the destiny of the Took dynasty, which itself carries some hint of divine grace.
In the extensive genealogies of the hobbits, and in the repeated motif of the Old Took, JRRT brings to the Shire his affection for and concern with nobility of the blood, and further develops the idea that there is such a thing as a natural aristocracy who both receives and earns divine sanction through continuous performance of the good, the just and the needful. What keeps his vision from being merely archaic, or simply fascistic, is the undercurrent that there is a need for performance to prove worthiness, and an insistence that new blood can augment, and even supplant, the old. The strongest examples of these beliefs are the accounts of the fall of the Black Númenóreans and the ennoblement of the Rohirrim.
The ability to found dynasties - multi-generational clans who command the respect and deference of surrounding related populations - is the reward for leadership and service to a needy population. In times of peace, a dynasty must serve and guide to build up resources, such as agriculture, trade, handicraft, and portable wealth. In times of troubles, the dynasty must lead and protect, taking risks and setting examples. The model is not that of kingship or of rule; at base, it is a model of stewardship and care. This also is a tempering influence on what is otherwise a rather rigidly hierarchical view of society and nature. The waning of the royal house of Gondor is inextricable from the Kinstrife, when control of the throne was more important than maintaining the Kingdom. It is important that the Thainship in the Shire was originally an elected position (though probably more plebiscitary than democratic), converted over time to an hereditary office. The Shire never saw kings, princes, lords or nobles, but they did have a natural aristocracy that arose over time, the most prominent being the Tooks.
Perhaps the most important role that a dynasty serves is to raise up the particular individuals who will lead in times of trouble. Preparing for the unexpected is the fundamental social requirement for the stewards. To the degree that they do this well, they will both maintain the divine sanction to continue in their dynastic stewardship and also will cultivate within the dynasty individuals possessing the nobility of spirit and character that will make the particular person a worthy vessel of divine grace. Frodo and Bilbo are the proof of both within Shire society. It is only by this grace that Bilbo does not fall prey to the ultimate evil he must needs carry5 and that Frodo may take it up to destroy it. Thus, their characters must be strong and noble at base, but must also be tried and tempered so they are capable of receiving a state of grace. This is not to be confused with receiving a blessing - to be the object of divine grace is a terrible, awesome thing in this moral universe. Any examination of their sexuality must respect this condition of their characters. Either of these characters must conduct themselves ethically and morally within their sexual expression, just as they do in their other social and personal interactions. To allow them to violate these constraints without penalty would render these characters unrecognizable.
Despite the surname "Baggins", what most clearly distinguishes Bilbo and Frodo from the general hobbit population, and what binds them most closely to each other (as well as to Merry and Pippin) is their descent from the Old Took. While Gerontius Took is mostly noted for being old, he also appears to have been a force of change. Until Bilbo comes along, Gerontius is the last hobbit to have been a close friend of Gandalf, the Valar's steward in Middle-earth.6 His own children are noted for having adventures and for being extraordinary, and almost every major political actor in the Shire after his death is one of his descendents, most notably Bilbo, Frodo, Merry and Pippin. The Tookland is the only region of the Shire that offers significant resistance to Saruman, and his great-great-grandson, Fredegar "Fatty" Bolger led a band of rebels in the East Farthing.
A trope used extensively by Tolkien is that of reincarnation. Elves directly reincarnate, Dwarves have a belief that their great rulers (most notably Durin) are reincarnated through generations, and notable humans are described in terms of how closely they resemble a particular ancestor. The event of reincarnation is usually a signal of something greater in the offing - there is a return to face up to new dangers and challenges. I reutilize this trope through the figure of the Old Took and the ways in which his descendents do or do not resemble him. Bilbo, consistently identified by Tolkien as a son of his Took mother, not of his Baggins father, is the first to have a premonition of Troubles, and to believe there is a reason that the Old Took seems to be reappearing in the guise of his great-grandchildren. It is not mere happenstance that Frodo will so closely resemble in form and character a forefather who was a close friend of Gandalf, nor that he will himself become close to the Valar's emissary, any more than it is accident that Aragorn resembles Elendil (not Isildur) more closely than any other descendent, nor that Arwen resembles Lúthien, nor even that Faramir resembles Aragorn strongly (thus establishing his own, more tenuous, link to Elendil).
Another aspect of the "uncles" can be examined from this perspective - their lack of mate and children. In a metaphysical sense, to the degree that they are the reincarnation or symbolic instantiation of an ancestor and are vessels of divine grace, they are not their own beings. They exist for a purpose beyond the ordinary injunction to be fruitful and multiply. In question is not so much their choice of sexual partner as their condition of childlessness. To fulfill the demands of a larger destiny, Bilbo and Frodo are called upon in some manner to eschew a very ordinary and rewarding part of life. Each has an heir, an inheritor of a formal legacy, rather than a son or daughter, the inheritor of a blood legacy. What they leave behind is larger than a brood of children, and there is an abstracted paternity between themselves and all future generations in the Shire.
Are the characters aware of the divine burden that has been laid upon them? By the end of his life, it is certain that Frodo does, and likely that Bilbo is also aware. But what of during their younger lives, before the moment of Revelation by Gandalf of the Ring and of their divine choosing?7 While they might not be conscious of their being chosen, there is clearly something that keeps them from embarking on the normal path of marriage and progeny. A sexuality that is not focused exclusively or even primarily upon reproduction may make the burden of divine grace easier to bear. This does not indicate that they are divinely intended to desire same-sex partners. Rather, it signals that they may have little inclination to pursue more traditional and approved modes of sexual expression. It is the absence of a wife, not the presence of a male lover, that marks each of them so uniquely.
One potential explanation for both Bilbo and Frodo's lack of intimate adult partner, male or female, is the Ring itself. I do explore, briefly, the Ring as itself an agent of desire, a reflection of its master's hunger to possess all that is, and how it would, over time, collect all of its bearer's desire to itself, as exemplified by Gollum. In this case, lack of desire (or refocusing of desire upon the Ring, resulting in a lack of desire for flesh and blood beings) is a negative indicator, and feelings or expressions of want towards another being can be counted as indicators of their ability to resist the Ring's influence upon them. I recall the one moment of remorse by Gollum, on the stairs to Cirith Ungol, when there is a moment of affection and longing for Frodo - insofar as Gollum can manifest some type of desire (whatever it may be) for someone and something besides the Ring, there is a possibility of positive moral agency in the fallen creature; love is the root of redemption and the foundation of resistance to evil. Thus, there is a very strong argument to be made that desire for another being is a sign of moral health in Tolkien, though particular expressions of it may be counter-factual indicators of a distortion of the soul.
This brings up an aspect of sexuality that is not often addressed in fanfiction - purposeful and principled renunciation of desire in particular circumstances without complete rejection of desire and sexuality as such. The blood inheritance of the divinely sanctioned dynasty is to be carried out by others within the clan8 and the line is ensured of continuing its stewardship. The chosen Ring-bearers, having another kind of duty, turn aside opportunities for acting on sexual desire. They do desire, for desire is a condition of being, but make choices about whether or not they shall be sexual agents. Facing such a choice becomes part of the testing and tempering of their characters in preparation for the greater tasks. In some cases, the decision to act sexually may be the choice they should make, but the movement away from desire is obviously the nobler choice in Tolkien's estimation.
This is a different narrative than one where the protagonist, usually Frodo, is in a condition of longing or dejected realization that the one whom he loves is not available. There is no real choice or ethical reflection going on here - there is thwarted desire. The purpose of the narrative is to either allow the protagonist to overcome the barriers to physical union, or else to examine in meticulous detail the misery of the separation and the impossibility of union. A narrative of principled renunciation of desire also differs from narratives where the protagonist, usually Bilbo, is presented as asexual, having no desires and having to make no choices about potential erotic partners. The problem of desire, particularly of cross-generational and/or inappropriate desire, simply is not addressed in that narrative model. The narrative of ethical choice can address extremely problematic desires. As indicated above, the choice may be to enact such a desire, and then the focus of the narrative is to examine the ethical fallout of having done so.
Having the character reflect on his own sexuality as such, and to act on or choose to not act on what he is perfectly free to do, brings to the fore one of Tolkien's own great themes - the necessity to judge and to chose what one does. Not self-mortification, as though disgusted by things of the flesh, nor self-recrimination, as though ashamed of one's acts, but a choosing of duty over desire, would become the grounds for abstention. Conversely, a choice to honor and enact desire is given a basis besides hormones or self-referential indulgence. In this way, a mature relationship to one's own sexual desires marks the nature of one's stewardship and defines one's place within the unfolding of grace and destiny. Desire can become not simply a thing to be satisfied or denied, but a way of reflecting upon the self and preparing oneself for divinely appointed tasks. Reproductive duties are forgiven, and personal desires are set aside.
4"…the mother of this hobbit - Bilbo Baggins, that is - was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took, head of the hobbits who lived across The Water…It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but certainly there was still something not entirely hobbitlike about them, and once in a while members of the Took-clan would go and have adventures. They discreetly disappeared, and the family hushed it up; but the fact remained that the Tooks were not as respectable as the Bagginses, though they were undoubtedly richer." An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit [ BACK ]
5Bilbo is so resistant to its corrupting influence that he can give away treasure, indeed, can give away the Ring itself, a deed no other Child of Arda was able to perform up to that point, and which only Sam is able to repeat, when he relinquishes the Ring to Frodo in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. [ BACK ]
6"[Gandalf] had not been down that way under The Hill for ages and ages, not since his friend the Old Took died,…" An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit [ BACK ]
7" 'There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master…Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!
'Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.'…
'…I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?'
'Such questions cannot be answered,' said Gandalf. 'You may be sure it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.'" The Shadow of the Past, The Lord of the Rings [ BACK ]
8Or, in the case of Sam, given the opportunity to be a founder of such a dynasty. It is interesting to see that he sires more children than the Old Took, and that all of Sam's children live. [ BACK ]
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