After weeks of wandering in the gloomy forest, the hikers grew depressed. Fall was coming and they were lost. They trudged along; dragging their heavy feet through the dead leaves carpeting the forest. Everywhere they looked, they only saw massive trees – ‘endless lines of straight gray trunks like the pillars of some huge twilight hall.’ They were ready to quit. Finally, in frustration, the leader shouted,
Is there no end to this accursed forest? Someone must climb a tree and get his head above the roof and have a look around!
Of course, ‘someone’ meant Bilbo. After all, he was the lightest and it seemed like he could get to the thinner branches at the treetop. Although he wasn’t much of a climber (or anything else which involved physicality) the dwarves helped him up onto a tree anyway. He climbed and pushed his way through ‘many a slap in the eye,’ until he was ‘grimed from the old bark.’ After a long struggle, Bilbo reached the top. John Ronald tells it this way:
Bilbo poked his head above the roof of leaves. The sun was shining brilliantly and it was a long while before he could bear it. He saw all around him a sea of dark green, ruffled here and there by the breeze, and there were hundreds of butterflies. He looked at them for a long time and enjoyed the breeze in his hair and on his face. His heart was lightened by the sight of the sun and the feel of the wind.
I can relate to Bilbo.
When life feels stifling, like Mirkwood, I tend to only see what’s right in front of me. My feet drag and I slouch as if I’m under some great weight. I lose perspective and am tempted to despair. The radical initiative that started my journey is replaced by the rote ordinary. I begin to wonder, “Why am I even doing this?”
We get burned out when we lose vision. Or when “how-to” replaces our vision. All we can see are the dead leaves covering our next step. There is no sight of the horizon. When our calling and writing become more about hurry and noise, and less about dreams and tapping into the Creative Well, we lose our way. We begin to believe the soft lies of Mirkwood.
The forest is dark and has no end.
Big spiders want to eat me.
I will never get out.
But sometimes we just need to climb a tree.
The great stories take us to these lofty places – places where we can see the horizon. Places where we are again blinded by the sun, dazzled by beauty and refreshed by the cool wind on our faces. When we read, write and live these stories, our lives – for brief moments – transcend the ordinary.
I think this is why poet Langston Hughes said, “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” For it is the dreams and magic our hearts crave; we are eternal creatures with immortal longings. In these things we hear a faint echo – distant memories of home and the promise of our return.
*Excerpts taken from “Dreams” by Langston Hughes, 1926 and “The Hobbit” by J.R.R Tolkien, September 1937, George Allen and Unwin, UK.