‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’ ‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.
In the Lord of the Rings four races that have historic reasons to distrust one another must band together to defeat an enemy that threatens to destroy them all. At the center of this gathering of misfits stands a people (the hobbits) who are perceived as weak and simple. Despite their outward appearance, these small folk are of sturdier stuff than their stature might suggest. The grand plan for the salvation of the world at the core of the novel is not the acquisition of power, but its rejection. This sacrifice of power is possible because of the shared love that the four peoples discover on mission together.
It is clear, then, that the Lord of Rings posits racial reconciliation, common mission and the rejection of power as the hope of the world. If this is true, then with all due respect to authorial intent, the hobbits are black people.
Rather offering a wide-ranging reflection on the connections between the souls of hobbits and that of black folk, I want to focus on one event that have grabs me every time I encounter it. For those of you who have not read the book, let me set the scene. Early in the narrative, the Witch-King of Angmar stabs Frodo with a poisoned blade during the battle of Weathertop. Frodo almost dies from the injury and is only rescued by the healing ministry of the elves. Despite the fact that he survives this encounter, Frodo is never fully well. The injury has changed him. Tolkien returns to this theme repeatedly:
Are you in pain, Frodo?’ said Gandalf quietly as he rode by Frodo’s side.
‘Well, yes I am,’ said Frodo. ‘It is my shoulder. The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today.’
‘Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,’ said Gandalf.
‘I fear it may be so with mine,’ said Frodo.
One evening Sam came into the study and found his master looking very strange. He was very pale and his eyes seemed to see things far away.
‘What’s the matter, Mr. Frodo?’ said Sam.
‘I am wounded,’ he answered, ‘wounded; it will never really heal.’
But then he got up, and the turn seemed to pass, and he was quite himself the next day. It was not until afterwards that Sam recalled that the date was October the sixth. Two years before on that day it was dark in the dell under Weathertop.
I have often thought of the wound of Frodo in relationship to the burdens that black Christians bear when it comes to reconciliation work. Racism and the church’s complicity in allowing the systematic oppression of people of color is one of the great sins of our day. It must be faced. It must be faced by a multi-ethnic community on shared mission rooted in our belief in that cross of Christ shows us that love and self-sacrifice are not in vain because the crucified one lives. This is a glorious and God given task, but it wounds as we carry it out. Most black people committed to racial reconciliation have been or will be deeply wounded in the midst of this journey. These wounds do not truly heal. They return to us at unexpected times and we are plunged afresh into melancholy and pain. We turn to our companions and echo the words of Frodo, “I am wounded!”
What then is our hope? Are we do go on as the wounded healers forever? I would offer two answers. First, we have the comfort of Christ. Darkness passes because Christ is risen. But ultimately our hope is eschatological. Frodo, although he returns to his life in the Shire, does not find true peace until he departs for the Grey Havens:
Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
This scene is beautiful, but only partially true to the Christian vision of the end of all things. Our hope is not found in leaving the Shire for some far off land. Instead we believe that one day God will come and live among us. In that day, our mourning shall know its end:
he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)