Wisdom and Joy

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug comes out in December. Although this movie will (hopefully) not feature Elrond, I found myself recently thinking about different perspectives on Elrond. In The Hobbit novel, Elrond was portrayed quite differently than he is in the movies. In the book he was…happy. The general character of the elves underwent a similar transformation in the movie. In  novel, they climb trees, sing silly songs, and mock the dwarves for having beards and acting old though most elves are at least twice as old as any of the dwarves. In recent film adaptations of LOTR and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the elves have as much levity as funeral home directors.

I think this discrepancy springs from cultural ideas about wisdom. elrondWe have difficulty picturing anyone who is wise having a good time. The idea behind the old solemn sage is that anyone who gains much wisdom (often by years of experience) will be depressed by humanity’s prospects. Perhaps solemnity does impart the proper perspective on serious questions. Yet in joy, we find hope’s perspective, which is a greater wisdom still because it sees what might change with one person’s efforts, rather than what will be if that person does nothing. Moreover, that joy may be the effort which brings about the change. Gandalf provides a good illustration.

Though the movies depressed Elrond and the elves, did away with Tom Bombadil, and omitted Aragorn’s sense of humor, the movies did not entirely do away with Gandalf, who embodies the idea of hope-filled wisdom. Sure, Gandalf does silly things like making fireworks and harassing Bilbo about the phrase “Good morning”, but sometimes good things come of his silliness. Gandalf founds the expedition to the Lonely Mountain that enables Bilbo to find the Ring, which Sauron would have otherwise eventually taken from Gollum. The Lonely Mountain expedition also turns Bilbo into an adventurer, which in turn lets Bilbo raise Frodo to be adventurous enough to destroy the Ring. Frodo might have been unable to undertake such an expedition had not Gandalf been with him to give him encouragement like

“Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. in which case you were also meant to have it.”

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

If the Elrond of the movie had his way, the Ring might have been hidden away while Middle Earth made one last all or nothing assault on Mordor, where everyone died–or the ring might have found by Sauron rather than Bilbo if the dwarves’ expedition had not continued. Fortunately, the Elrond of the book was nothing like this but helped both the thirteen dwarves and the Fellowship of the Ring and named his foster son (the future king of Gondor) Estel, Elvish for “hope”.

Image from from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

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