Those of my dear readers who may have chanced upon another blog of mine, Aquila et Infans, know that I have been reading C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. The novel is very powerful. In particular, it highlights certain excesses which we see in our own times. I have less than 100 pages to go, and the evil organization, which has the precious abbreviation N. I. C. E., has thoroughly appalled me by their tactics and even more by their vision for mankind. Lest I give away too many spoilers, let me speak generally about what their horrifying fault is. Pride, a most diabolic and insane pride runs through the veins of the top members. Their pride consists in thinking that they can recreate mankind according to their own conceptions. Rather than discovering what man is and then deciding how to benefit mankind through understanding human nature, they attempt to force their silly notions upon human society and work from ideals which destroy people’s way of life and even their very being. Aristotle claimed that virtue was found between two extremes or vices. Humility places man exactly where he is. Pride puffs man up or deflates him beyond reason. The latter is certainly a form of pride, and may be seen in the vices of despair, materialism, and melancholy. (If cheerfulness is a virtue, as St. Francis de Sales claimed, then melancholy may surely be listed as a vice!) But, the people of N. I. C. E. do not miss the mark–αμαρτιζειν, if you will–by undershooting. Their arrow of arrogance flies far above the target and lands no where near it! Rather than follow the Master’s words: “The poor you may always have with you. You may do good to them whenever you wish,” they think that might eliminate poor persons as deadweights, which, to their mind, is the benefit of famine and war. Natural things have germs; therefore, we ought to destroy the forests and replant them with artificial trees. Sex is disgusting; therefore, let people coddle artificial replicas of their lovers rather than each other. Everyone else’s reason–especially the lower classes–is inferior and corrupt; therefore, let us lie and distort the truth. And the frightening thing is that we see reflections of these attitudes in modern times! Margaret Sanger believed that blacks were inferior and ought to be eliminated. And so, we have the establishment of Planned Parenthood. In the movements advocating sexual freedom, no-fault divorce, and gay marriage, we see the destruction of the family–that natural environment for the rearing of children and mutual love. People also assert the right, formerly held only by God Himself, to determine which infants will live and at what time one ought to die. To reference couples with their replicas, what else is pornography and the sex industry? To many a modern, man exists not in nature, but above it. So, what is the use of speaking of human nature? Or the nature of man? Or the nature of woman? In these times, it is more often heard that man created God in his image than that God created man out of the slime of the earth. The zeitgeist holds that man can make himself whatever he wishes to be. How many ills would be cured if a men tried to be men and women women! A fish is not happy on dry land nor a wolf in the Pacific Ocean. Neither is a man happy when he tries to be a god.
There have already been plenty of reviews of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; and so, I would like to avoid writing another review of this spectacular, action packed, hard-hitting, fantastic, and mesmerizing masterpiece filled with beautifully epic scenery, scintillating armor, and exquisite weapons which you absolutely must see otherwise you shall go to your grave regretting it. Instead, I would like to concentrate on how relevant The Hobbit is to our day and age on the topic of courage.
I remember reading a certain document which told the reader that one can become courageous through mortification, self-control, poverty of spirit, and hard work. To an extent this is true, but how often do we find people possessing these traits who hesitate at the critical moment, thus passing up an opportunity to show this virtue? This lies in the fact that the above qualities really perfect fortitude, which has a connotation of passivity: one with fortitude is great at resisting and refusing temptations. Yet, the other side of this coin, the active side, requires something more–especially since the penalties for acting courageously are often more severe than those which fall on a person for fortitude (death, for example). Most moderns have many ways to practice fortitude, but few occasions for the practice of courage unless one happens to work in a dangerous occupation. This makes moderns especially more timid than preceding generations; however more compassionate modern man seems to be.
Most moderns are rather like Bilbo Baggins: very comfortable, happy, and boring. Initially, he has no desire to be dragged on this adventure. He behaves rather pathetically in allowing his goods to be raided for the dwarves to eat dinner with hardly a protest. (At least, he could have shown magnanimity in freely giving the contents of his pantry to them.) After reading the disclaimers on the contract presented to him in order to become the party’s burglar (or expert treasure hunter, a euphemism the movie neglects to mention), he faints at the thought of death or pain. Ecce homo hodierne!*
What finally draws him into this adventure? The movie seems to harp on the fact that part of Bilbo’s family, the Took side, was very courageous; therefore, it was somehow in his blood to perform noble deeds. But, as an enlightened American, I don’t believe that having a good bloodline is sufficient. Rather, the heroic sentiments instilled in him by Gandalf motivated him to leave everything familiar and comfortable in order to begin this journey. Gandalf told Bilbo about how, during a famous battle, his great-great grandfather knocked off the head of a powerful goblin with a club, implying that Bilbo ought to live up to the nobility of his ancestors! Also, partaking of the company of the dwarves and being influenced by their values effected this change. Having a heroic imagination is the final thing necessary to those attributes mentioned at the beginning of the second paragraph in order for one to have courage.
Unlike Bilbo, no one invites us to slay dragons or go on adventures–unless we are invited to join the military or visit a violence enshrouded foreign country as a missionary. Therefore, we need other ways to instill heroic sentiments in us. As Aristotle said, no one can even be good unless they love good actions. Likewise, how can one even be courageous unless he loves deeds of valor? This is where novels and movies like The Hobbit and especially historical works showing the deeds of brave men have great value in forming character: they inspire us with these sentiments so that we may seize opportunities for showing courage. *spoilers coming* Indeed, we ought to have thrilled to Dwalin smiting orcs and wargs with his battle hammer, Thorin Oakenshield valiantly resisting a much stronger opponent until lopping off the orc’s arm, and Gandalf and company cutting themselves out of the Orcs’ stronghold. *end of spoilers* Joy in hearing of such deeds and the desire to show ourselves brave allow people of self-control, mortification, poverty of spirit, and diligence to shift from their usual, passive fortitude into active courage.
Too often in the modern world, heroism is lampooned, mocked, and relegated to the days of yore. How many of my dear readers have read Sir Walter Scott? Mark Twain used to deplore how this author “warped” the minds of so many Southerners through imbuing their souls with chivalric ideals. But we see the effects of chivalric imaginations most clearly in the Civil War. Where else has a civil war been carried out with such unparalleled gallantry? How many other wars have given us so many examples of great-souled men?
The modern literary project has mostly centered on describing how men are rather than how men ought to be. Some people even deride certain works where characters have no flaws as being more like children than adults. But, I think that a greater calling for an author is to show men how they ought to be rather than their current state of weakness and sinfulness. At least, one ought to show people examples of how characters overcome their weaknesses to be more perfect. We need more Homers, Livyes, Mallories, Scotts, Tolkiens, Chestertons, and Lewises in this day and age so that modern men may at least carry heroic sentiments in their breast.
I would like to end by saying how important courage is in the highest Christian virtue: charity. It is difficult to love if one fears, “perfect love casts out fear” (Jn 4:18). The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, picked up on this when he said: “Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love.” Ultimately, it is our trust in God, that He is our Loving Father, which perfects love in each one of us. Our Lord, while always retaining the fullness of every virtue, may be said to have modeled such a path: His devotion and loyalty to His Father led to Him bravely denouncing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes, His bravery led to Him sacrificing Himself for us on the Cross, and this sacrifice allows us to have perfect trust in God and love for Him.
*Latin for “Behold the man of today!”