I looked forward to the release of Peter Jackson’s first part of The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey with far more anticipation than most mortal men. That’s because when I was 8 years old I pulled a dusty old hardback library edition of the book off of my elementary school library shelves at the direction of the librarian (Thank you, Mrs. Small!), and I started reading.
I went to Middle Earth. And I never really came back.
As much as I admire and love the breadth and majesty of The Lord of the Rings, and approve of Jackson’s brilliant adaptation, there will always be a special place in my heart for The Hobbit. It’s the book that started me on my personal adventure in many, many ways. So when Jackson’s movie came out, I went in with high expectations, which (I’m happy to say) were for the most part exceeded. Loved the movie.
I work in porn, so I’m pretty partial to boobs on the worst of days. But the plain fact of the matter is that there just weren’t any boobs in the book, The Hobbit, and the boobs that were in the movie, while of exceptional quality, were indeed a re-write. The Hobbit just didn’t have any female characters to speak of.
That’s not because J.R.R. Tolkien was a misogynistic bastard tool of the Patriarchy, as some would suggest. There aren’t any women in The Hobbit because, quite frankly, girls just don’t do that sort of thing.
Think about it: if you’re familiar with the story of the book/movie, then you know that it revolves around a quest . . . not just any quest, but a quest for fortune and glory with a dragon at the end. It’s a quest to re-establish a great legacy, to re-conquer that which had been wrongfully taken, a quest to redress old wrongs and change the landscape of the world and ensure the legacy of a long and distinguished line.
And the plain fact of the matter is that groups of women just do not congregate toward dragon-slaying operations as a rule.
As has often been noted, groups of women never did really get together and build a boat just to see what was on the other side of the ocean the way men did. They didn’t travel to distant lands to seek their fortune the way men did. They didn’t pursue decades-old vendettas involving lost fortunes and missing legacies the way men did. The impetus for exploration and adventure (and exploitation and fortune) are soundly male traits. Women just take advantage of them, and are occasionally taken advantage of by them.
The criticism of the movie (and, by extension, the book) revolving around the lack of female characters isn’t just indicative of the typical knee-jerk reaction toward anything positive and all-male these days; it demonstrates the utter lack of understanding of basic differences in how men and women think, plan, and act. At the risk of making a “sweeping generalization” (or, for those addicted to the opium of reason, an “observable fact”), going off on a quest with an axe in your hand in search of fame and fortune is traditionally and historically a “dude” thing, not a “chick” thing. Sterling exceptions to that rule notwithstanding (they’re exceptions, remember), it is men, not women, who undertake such adventures. Men get together and slay dragons. Women get together and trade pants.
You can ascribe the reason for that to many things, depending on your politics: the inability of men to commit, the inability of women to agree on just how a boat should be built, the male fascination with getting-out-of-town-fast, the female desire for a comfortable night’s sleep and tasty carbohydrates, the male capacity for violence and the female dislike of the same, you name it and you can find a sure-fire genderized reason that will float positive or negative, as you see fit.
But the reason that the thirteen dwarves, one hobbit and a wizard were all men was because men, as a rule, adventure in dangerous enterprises. Women, as a rule, do not. It’s as simple as that. Trying to change the gender of a dwarf or throw in an extra chick somewhere along the line would ruin the story because it is, in effect, a male story, about masculine values. Even including Galadriel was a stretch, and while I approve of the inclusion I also feel it departed somewhat from the intended narrative feel. Thorin & Company was a stag affair for a reason.
Of all the races Tolkien revalorized from old Northern European pagan myths, the Dwarves of Durin’s Folk were by far the most overtly masculine. We get intriguing glimpses of their culture from the books, and it is decidedly male-oriented by nature. Short and strong, and possessed of great flowing beards (even, as legend says, the women), Dwarves were the epitome of several key masculine virtues: ingenuity, craftsmanship, strength, courage, and indomitable will. The Dwarves were delvers under the earth, wresting iron, silver, gold and other minerals from deep mines and forging them into artifacts of exquisite craftsmanship, from toys to weapons of war.
They were naturally aloof, some preferring not to marry at all so devoted they were to their craft (consider them Dwarves Going Their Own Way). Yet they were passionate, with strong ideas about kinship and family. The entire War of the Dwarves and Goblins was over a vile, fatal insult delivered to Thorin’s grandfather. Dwarves also epitomize some of masculinity’s less-stellar traits, from quick anger to rash behavior to intractable stubbornness to insensible greed. Dwarves are men with the softer, feminized elements of our culture stripped away (and added to that of the stylishly-dressed Elves). Even Dwarven art is blocky and masculine, utterly unlike the curves and arches of the home of Elrond the Half-Elven.
Complaining that The Hobbit has too many males involved is like complaining lesbian porn doesn’t have enough women. It might be true, but it misses the point.
The Hobbit is an adventure tale, a “buddy movie” in which the main character is forced out of his comfortable, civilized, feminized existence into the rough and dangerously masculine world. Bilbo Baggins is a comfort-loving hobbit who gets all but Shanghaied from his comfy country subterranean manor home. Indeed, their entire culture emphasizes the Beta traits of comfort-building, predictability and social propriety to extremes. Hobbits are terribly civilized and don’t see much use for adventures at all. It takes Gandalf’s friendly boot on his ass to get Bilbo out the door and committed to the quest – but that’s what wizards do. Wise Old Men are in charge of initiating the boy into manhood.
The ensuing quest reads like a Joseph Campbell book: Bilbo and the motley assemblage of Dwarves take a while to learn to work together. Like any quasi-military unit, the screw-ups and inadequate leadership inevitably cause problems at first, and much of the movie involves the party getting sorted out. Gandalf and Thorin duel for leadership, with Balin mediating, while the rest of the company finds their roles. Bilbo is constantly underfoot or otherwise lagging behind, yet even at this early stage of the adventure (as his role in the troll episode demonstrates) his utility is clear. Still, the ultra-masculine Dwarves are skeptical of his usefulness and chances of survival – even those most sympathetic with him.
Despite being smaller than the smallest Dwarf, and very differently-natured, Bilbo persists on the quest often for no better reason than he committed himself. At several points he expresses regret at leaving his comfortable Beta existence behind. But he made a commitment, he signed a contract, he pledged his nascent masculine honor – no matter how small his contribution to the effort – to the completion of the quest. At the end of the movie he even verbally abandons his comfort-seeking life and re-commits himself to helping the Dwarves recover their stolen home.
The masculine themes throughout the movie are strong: not just the powerful narrative of Thorin and the Dwarves, but the struggles Gandalf faces on the White Council, in the face of his inferior superior, Saruman, are just as dramatic and just as instructive. Most of us have been at a place where our boss was kind of an idiot, and possibly even plotting with the Evil Dark Lords behind your back. It happens. Gandalf does what men traditionally do: kiss just enough ass to get by, and proceed with your own plan anyway.
The story of The Hobbit is particularly timely, in Red Pill terms. We stand now at what might be the beginning of the Revolt of the Betas, an opportunity for the meek-hearted, timid hobbits among us to cast off their waistcoats, forget their pocket handkerchiefs, and pick up swords they didn’t know they had in an effort to strive toward regaining their masculinity in a hostile wilderness of feminism and anti-male sentiment.
Bilbo is Beta, at the beginning of the story, and the remainder of it is really about how any man finds his Alpha: in the company of other men, guided by the Wise, a clear quest ahead, through danger and hardship, and – eventually – finding a dragon at the end.
(Notice the utter lack of princesses involved.)
The Dwarves are a mixed-bag of embodied masculine traits, from the majesty of kingly Thorin to the youthful exuberance of Fili and Kili to the family-man Gloin building a legacy, to the wisdom and experience of old Balin. Dwalin epitomizes the battle-hardened Warrior, and Dori is dedicated to the sophisticated tastes of the finer things in life. Each of them has something to contribute to Bilbo’s education, and each of them is naturally sympathetic to the out-of-place hobbit . . . but that doesn’t keep them from doing what is necessary to temper him.
The doubts, the teasing, the constant remarks about how different Bilbo is seems almost cruel to feminine sensibilities. But they are vital elements to how a boy becomes a man. You don’t gain strength by catering to sensitivity and weakness, but by challenging it and overcoming it. The good-natured hazing the Dwarves offer Bilbo is designed to toughen him, not break him. They want him stronger, not broken.
The Dwarves act in good faith. Even when things look the grimmest, they do not seriously consider abandoning Bilbo. He signed a contract. He committed himself. He pledged his masculine honor– what little he had – for the common goal and the common good, and even when things went bad he and his companions did not break faith. That's an essential masculine value, and a vital lesson of manhood.
But the most shining example of masculine themes is in Gandalf’s expository discussion with Galadriel, after the council, in which she questions the wisdom (which is a big thing for a Wizard) of including Bilbo on the Dwarves’ desperate quest.
His answer may sound like a generic, vainglorious throw-away line for a sappy action-adventure fantasy, but under further study it becomes something more . . . something much more. Something intrinsic to and glorious about the masculine soul.
Gandalf and the Dwarves may have needed a 14th member, a burglar, and a well-stocked host when they hired Bilbo to join them (and convinced him to go of his own accord). The inclusion in the party seems almost an after-thought, especially to the doubtful Dwarves of Thorin & Company. But upon reflection, Gandalf reveals that what first appears to be a dumb-ass move (including a very killable hobbit among the far-tougher Dwarves) is not just for his nimble utility and cleverness . . . it was actually designed to improve his own stewardship of the enterprise:
“Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid. And he gives me courage” is what he admits to the aloof, immortal and impeccably-manicured renegade ring-bearing Noldoran Elvenqueen. And that sentence is telling, a roadmap to the masculine conception of duty and honor.
No matter how doughty and dedicated the warrior, without a worthy task or precious vulnerability to protect, bravery is a shallow thing. The warrior who fights for survival is honorable. The warrior who fights for gain is bold. The warrior who fights for others even as they fight for him, is noble. And the warrior who can admit his fear and his dependence on others is wise.
Honorable, bold, noble and wise – these are the elements the Beta hobbits of our post-industrial Shire need, but they can’t get them online and they can’t get them from women. Only in the company of men, guided by the wise, through hardship and adversity will they shed their fear, find their strength, and become the men their ancestors intended them to be.
This was recently brought home in my own personal life. My oldest son is 13, nearing the cusp of manhood. He’s at the age in which toys are fading in importance and girls are starting to be more than an annoyance. You remember how difficult, strange, and wonderful that time was in your life. We each seem to get some seemingly-insurmountable challenge around that age, one which forces us to take the first steps toward adult responsibility, whether we want to or not.
We’re not Christian, so we don’t do confirmation camp and such, and our Pagan equivalent is a private family matter. But the rites of adulthood are an important if not essential element of our sacraments, and we spend a lot of time discussing and preparing for his future. As a symbolic part of his initiation into manhood I bought him a sword.
Not just any sword, but a replica of Bilbo’s sword (which will be named “Sting” in the next movie, if you were curious). It’s the lower-end replica, unadorned by Elvish script on the blade, by design. I shall have it engraved, when the time comes, with a new name and a new legend.
Why a sword? Because for ten thousand years our ancestors acknowledged a young man’s maturity and adulthood by granting him arms for the defense of his village/tribe/family, and a sword is a defensive as well as an offensive weapon.
But I’m not just giving it to him – he has to earn it. As he goes through the unexpected trial the Fates have granted him, and he has to face up to adult responsibilities and the consequences of adult actions for the first time, he will – like Bilbo – discover new reservoirs of strength, tenacity, cleverness and – yes – courage within his boyish heart. He will learn to walk away from the comfort and safety of childhood and venture into the Wilderness of adult masculinity. He will learn the sweet masculine thrill of knowing that you are strong and you are powerful and you are wise in a hostile world.
He will learn, as he grows into his man’s body, that even at his meager age and slight build, with a sword in his hand he can take a man’s life, and that is a heady responsibility. He will learn that his masculinity will be a burden and a blessing, a reason to be despised and a reason to be prized, a thing to be carefully cultivated like the finest strain of pipeweed and to be proud of, as if it was the most intricate jewel ever wrought. He will be taught that the comfort and security of the Beta – while valued – lays lighter on the scale of masculine worth than his Alpha contributions: leadership, dedication, loyalty, trustworthiness, competence.
The goal, you see, is to keep him from sliding into that Betatized state our society so favors prematurely, and instead push him into the grand adventure (“nasty disturbing uncomfortable things, adventures. Make you late for dinner.”) ahead. My job of ensuring his happy childhood has all but come to a close, and the just-as-important job of ushering him into manhood lies ahead. It scares me, this responsibility. If I screw it up, I’m not just messing up my son’s life, I’m releasing an untrained Ironwood on the unsuspecting world.
I could just slack-off and let television and the internet raise him, as his peers’ parents seem to be doing. But the last thing I want is for him to be a 28 year-old Bilbo in a one-bedroom apartment, his only devotion to a game console and his only adventures virtual. He’s an Ironwood: he can make it big or screw up big, but mediocrity is not in our DNA.
I’m hopeful. I’ve done a good job so far, else he wouldn't have made it through his recent ‘adventure’. It doesn't really matter what it was -- he was challenged, and despite taking a hammering, he rose to it and did what needed to be done, like the man he aspires to be.
And when he arrives at that point where I can look him in the eye and see a man grown, not a boy, then and only then shall he be presented with his cadet blade (he’ll get a full-sized sword when he’s 18), it shall be inscribed and engraved (in actual Sindaran Tengwar, ‘cause I’m a nerd like that) with this legend:
“Because I am afraid. And he gives me Courage.”
If you are a Beta dad and you're reading this, spend the next month reading The Hobbit out loud to your boys every night until you finish. Watch the expressions on their faces. Share in their delight and fear and surprise and adventure. Look into their eyes, see the eager boys they are and the strong men they can become, and realize - if you haven't yet - that the only person in the world who has the responsibility for them becoming men is not your wife, your ex-wife, their teachers, their neighbors, the government, society, or any particular village . . . it's you. Only you.
And if that scares you . . . good. It's a scary thing. It should be. Look at your sleeping son's face some night and try to imagine the unforeseen challenges he will be forced to face in his life, and understand that you alone can prepare him for them.
But take heart, if you don't feel up to the task ahead. If you're afraid you'll screw up, you have all the courage you need, right there in front of you. You'll discover reserves of strength and patience that you didn't know you had while you do it. In the process of helping your son become a man, you yourself will become a much better man.
If that's not a good enough reason to break your Beta and go forth into the world like a conquering hero, then there isn't one.