Some holidays make a bigger impression on me than others. Some of them are pretty off the beaten path. My mom is invited to an autumnal equinox ritual today but for me the significance is that today is the birthday of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Its the day that Bilbo walked away from Bag End for the last time. Its the day that Frodo sets out with Sam and Pippin for Rivendell and ultimately Mount Doom, on his own because he can’t afford to wait for Gandalf. To me it signifies the beginning of journeys and the start of new things. Summer is about relaxing, enjoying the sun, taking breaks, playing with friends. But the beginning of fall, even when there isn’t a new semester beginning, necessarily involves sense of change, of buckling down and digging in and preparing for the future. Chaucer said that people naturally felt like starting out on journeys in April when the weather changed and the days grew longer. I feel somewhat differently – the onset of fall always feels like starting on a journey – even if I’m not going anywhere. Its a pause to take stock and get serious after the relative frivolity of summer.
This feeling is perfectly encompassed by Tolkien himself, whom I believe must have felt the same thing to write such wonderful books, not to mention songs and poems on the subject. I’ll include a verse from The Road Goes Ever On and On to illustrate this. There are several versions of this song in the Hobbit and the trilogy but this is my favorite: Bilbo’s adaptation for the beginning of his journey to Rivendell at the beginning of Fellowship. Its more substantial and contemplative than his original from the Hobbit and more hopeful and uplifting than his final version at the end of the story.
- The Road goes ever on and on
- Down from the door where it began.
- Now far ahead the Road has gone,
- And I must follow, if I can,
- Pursuing it with eager feet,
- Until it joins some larger way
- Where many paths and errands meet.
- And whither then? I cannot say.
In the fabulous BBC radio dramatization of the Lord of the Rings, this poem is given to Frodo, played as I have always imagined him thereafter by Ian Holm. He speaks it slowly over a single descant violin and it is one of the most beautiful spoken work pieces I know.
*It was recently brought to my attention that the quotations which stick in my head like neon signs are not universally familiar … so I’ll note that the post title comes from Tolkien’s description of the anticipation of Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday party at the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring.