J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a story of a journey ‘there and back again’, in the words of one Bilbo Baggins. As many know, we return from such an adventure changed, tempered like steel by the trials and tribulations met along the way. Such a journey was undertaken by twelve dwarves, a hobbit and a wizard (for part of the way). At journey’s end, Gandalf cheerfully remarks to Bilbo that he is not the hobbit he was. And this is true, for Bilbo and companions bravely elected to undertake the most perilous journey of all: to go into their subconscious minds and face down their most fearful and painful memories.
With many misgivings and many a shudder, they agree to travel through the vast and dread Forest of Mirkwood. The rucksacks of provisions on each of their backs represent the individual bag of past troubles that we carry around with us. We know we are entering a dead and forgotten world as soon as they step into the dark forest through an arch made of:
two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves.
The path is narrow and they must walk in single file, each on their own personal journey. A short distance into the woods and all light ceases to penetrate: there is just a stifling, airless silence but for the invisible scufflings of forest creatures and their luminous eyes. These are the fears they must confront and see for what they truly are – phantasms that have no real substance but are kept alive by our fear. As the dwarves and hobbit continue to trek warily through their subconscious minds, the fearful memories are drawn ever more urgently to them seeking release, especially when they light a fire at night. But it is not the right kind of light: only the inner light of understanding and self-forgiveness that will work. Still too frightened to face their fears, they cease making fires.
At length something happens to break the monotony of this timeless zone. They encounter the River of Forgetfulness and one of their number, Bombur, succumbs. He escapes this particular quest: it is not for him. The others persevere and, as a reward, they are visited by their true spiritual selves in the form of a white hind and fawns. If they could have but recognised themselves, the whole illusory forest would have vanished at a stroke, but they do not. They are still consumed by fear, not just of their darkest memories, but of hunger and thirst. The hind melts away, their arrows having no effect.
The fears become desperate for recognition and release as the travellers near the end of the forest and resort to luring them into the forest through the illusion of lights and a feast set out in the distance, off the protected pathway. Nearly all is lost for the dwarves become paralysed by fear (poisoned and trussed up by the big black spiders). Bilbo, at his lowest ebb, alone and lost in complete silence begins to succumb to the same paralysis but then, somehow, he finds his courage and the inner light is sparked and starts to flame brightly in the form of his sword, Sting. He squarely faces the inner demon and lunges for it with his sword. Ablaze with his hard-won understanding and reunited with the light within, he goes in search of his lost companions. They see his fearlessness as he does battle with their demons as well. They begin to stir from their paralysis. Feebly at first, they too begin to find their own inner light and together, in a weak huddle, as one, they confront, accept and clear each and every fear until there are none left. The quest is achieved. With their empty rucksacks, they leave the forest, courtesy of their captors the Wood Elves.
The purpose of the Thorin and company’s journey is to recover the dwarvish kingdom and all its gold. There is just one tiny problem: a large and fearsome dragon still inhabits their mountain kingdom and, furthermore, he has gathered in all the treasure and is sleeping soundly on his priceless couch. However, against all the odds, the dragon is killed. Then the real trouble begins because, suddenly, all thoughts of Middle Earth’s inhabitants turn to the Treasure and everyone wants a slice – dwarves of course but, also, Men, Elves and Goblins.
This is a story of greed, which naturally culminates in war and is only resolved when the Earth’s wealth is fairly shared amongst all. Beorn, the bear/man shapeshifter is untouched by greed: his reward is to have taken part in the destruction of the hated goblins who, eons ago, stole his mountain home. In particular, it is Bilbo Baggins who saves the day and, he too, is free from greed.
The Hobbit is also a story of enlightenment and the dragon symbolises our greed. Only when our hearts are pierced by the Arrow of Truth are we freed from our delusional beliefs.
Bilbo discovers there is only one place on the dragon’s soft underbelly that is not encrusted with precious stones; it is the heart, which is later pierced by Bard’s Black Arrow. Bard is well-named as it is the Welsh bards, poets and minstrels who shared the higher understanding through word and song. Enlightenment comes through facing our deepest fears (Black Arrow) as the ancient mystery schools knew. We then see the truth.
Having found the treasure within and clothed in the golden light of our own true selves, we break out of the prison walls we have constructed around us through greed and ignorance (like Thorin behind his wall). We have become ‘king’ of our own self and we rush out to embrace Life, free at last, just as Thorin rushes out to join battle against the orcs.
And that priceless gem, The Arkenstone – the Heart of the Mountain, is returned to its rightful owner, the Earth.