On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis
© 2012 Louis Markos
Fairy tales don’t teach children that dragons exist; they know dragons exist. Fairy tales teach children that dragons can be defeated. GKC declared that, and Louis Markos would support it. Here he demonstrates that fairy tales have much to teach even adults. In On the Shoulders of Hobbits, Markos uses the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings to guide readers through the Virtues — four Classical, three Christian — using the imagery of the Road (complete with obstacles and diversions) to guide the reader along.
Given his ‘on the road’ subtitle, it’s only appropriate that Markos begins by examining both the Narnian books and LOTR in the light of characters making a hero’s journey, confronted with obstacles and monsters, and eventually fulfilling their destiny. Some of these application of virtue will be obvious to any reader; main characters from both series frequently demonstrate courage in the face of adversity, for instance. Others are less expected, even by the author. Markos was raised in a tradition that barred alcohol and tobacco on the grounds of morality, and yet in the world of Tolkien he found characters gaily enjoying pipeweed and strong drink – from time to time. Their temperance was the temperance of the ancients, the practice of the golden mean. That mean, or balance, is a necessary component of the practice of the other virtues; for instance, courage is a balance between cowardice and recklessness. Without temperance, courage would not be itself. The exercise of other virtues distinguishes Tolkien and Lewis’ heroes from their opponents: for instance, Faramir practices a prudence about the One Ring that his brother Boromir, lacks — though both are equally courageous. A smaller ending section examines other common lessons the Lewis and Tolkien books teach; the consequences of making a deal with the Devil, for instance, as illustrated by Narnian characters who view the White Witch as a useful ally, sometimes even as they admit she is tyrannical. (As a real world example, Markos points to the West’s alliance with Joseph Stalin, whose penchant for mass murder was even more thoroughly exercised than Hitler’s.)
Although On the Shoulders of Hobbits makes for easy reading, it’s not superficial. Markos has penned several works on classical education, C.S. Lewis, and philosophy, and here he exhibits a familiarity with the ethical writings of philosophers and popes alike.