“You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in the wide world after all!”
“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.
As with auditions for a play, we don’t always get the part in life we think we want. Flute begged his director to not make him play a woman, while Bottom desired to play all the parts at once. Jo March wanted to be a boy. Lucy Pevensie wanted to be her older, beautiful sister Susan. Mark Studdock craved inclusion in the inner circles of his work, and his wife Jane despised any ideas of roles in their marriage. Moses begged God to send someone else, and then that someone else, Aaron, turned around years later and asked Moses why he had to be the one in charge. Peter asked Jesus what he planned to do with John. James and John wanted to have the right-hand position in God’s kingdom.
I want to be Gandalf. He’s tall, for one, as well as bearded, and then of course there’s the pointy, bluish-gray hat. Add to that wisdom, wit, compassion, humility, and authority. (And when played by Ian McKellen, a resonate voice that makes my heart flutter and the rest of me tingle down to my toes.) He—Mithrandir, The Grey Pilgrim, Gandalf the White—seems to always appear at the right moment to rescue (or even rebuke) his friends with ferocity and fire. Everyone would agree he plays an irreplaceable role both back and center stage, even the villains—that’s precisely why they want rid of him.
But most times, God decides to cast me as Bilbo: a short, fat, naive, and inexperienced hobbit who half of the time just wants to be left alone with his books, tea, and garden, thank-you-very-much, and the other half longs for an adventure. Full of questions and unaware of the dangers ahead, he usually grumbles and shrieks his way through bravery. Over the years he grows restless, still young at heart and mind, and yet feeling, “thin, and sort of stretched…like butter that has been scraped over too much bread” (Tolkien 40). Not exactly your picture of a hero.
I’ve tried to tell God I’d rather be Gandalf. Or if not him, Aragorn, or even Gimli. If I have to be one of the Halflings, then please, why not Samwise Gamgee? At least he’s dependable–innocent, but stout-hearted–and able to demonstrate resilience surprising for even a hobbit. (I believe Gandalf himself said so. Maybe.) Or Pippin and Merry, offering laughs and little bits of unexpected adventure and wisdom. Even Frodo had the role of bearing the evil of Middle Earth for the sole purpose of destroying it, though certainly not alone. But Bilbo? He’s delightful to read about, but to play the part, well, that doesn’t satiate my ache to be irreplaceable. Or at least not forgettable. Or a burden. Playing the role of Gandalf (which I must admit I have done more than once in my life), is humbling, yes, but at least you know you are wanted and have something to offer.
But Bilbo? Well, he was “only a little fellow in the wide world after all.”
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. Ballantine Books, 1996.
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