Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: THE WISDOM OF THE SHIRE by Noble Smith

The Wisdom of the Shire
by Noble Smith
Published: October 29, 2013
Genres: Nonfiction / Philosophy / Self Help / Secondary Source

A self help book based on Tolkien's philosophies in his works on Middle-earth, Wisdom of the Shire is a wonderful guide on living the simple and fulfilling lives of Hobbits. It's a short work - you can finish it in a day if you like, but I chose to read it slowly over the course of a month to make it last. 
This book consists of 20 chapters, a guide on making a Hobbit garden, and a Hobbit quiz to see just how Hobbit-ish you are--or if you're actually an orc. :) The chapters center around the significance of a particular element of Middle Earth, such as "Your Own Personal Gollum" (Chapter 3), how to "Sleep Like A Hobbit" (Chapter 4), and "Love in the Third Age" (Chapter 13). 

I saw a lot of these lessons as the sort of common sense that we lose when we're entrenched in our busy lives. They were a great reminder of the fundamental things that are important in making us happy, some of which I had lost sight of for a while in my life (during the Dark Days of Pre-Med, which feel so far behind me now). Do we really need all the extra bells and whistles that are supposed to make our lives better? Sometimes it's good to downgrade for a while and take a break. 

While some of Noble Smith's statements seem to be anti-technology (such as his humorous comparison of the iPhone's Face Time to a palantir), I see them as mostly a reminder to not become so dependent on technology that you forget the family and friends that are actually around you, and to remember the value of unplugging oneself every now and then. 

One of the most beautiful pieces of wisdom that I read in this book was the de-emphasis of pride and face-saving in order to focus on what's valuable:

"My wife and I got married twenty years ago when we were still in college. We didn't have enough money to buy new shoes, let alone pay for a wedding. So we had a barefoot ceremony in my parents' backyard. Our generous friends and family brought food and drinks and we all danced together on the grass. Who needs new shoes when you've got true love and friendship? The hobbits, who hardly ever wear shoes, would understand exactly what I'm talking about" (location 760).

Their ceremony was not created to impress, but to focus on the milestone event of their relationship. It's not that larger and more formal ceremonies are bad, but that whatever you do should be to share and celebrate this moment with family and friends; not so much to impress people (which leads to a lot of stress anyway).

Despite my enjoyment of this book, it's important to note the factual inaccuracies. Sometimes Smith would point out when he was quoting the films instead of the books, and sometimes he wouldn't. 

"The Valar are blessed with the gift of subcreation -- they can bring to life their own creatures to inhabit Middle-earth. The Elves, Ents, Dwarves and Men and even the Hobbits are all "invented" by the Valar who are like a team of wild video game designers populating World of Warcraft" (location 1729).

While I appreciate the nod to my favorite MMO, it is important to note that the Valar did not "invent" the Elves, Men, Ents, or the Hobbits. Ilúvatar alone held the power to creating life. The only race that the Valar invented was the Dwarves, and that was a major booboo at the hands of the Valar named Aulë, because it was not in his power to create life. Ilúvatar was furious about it, but ultimately chose not to destroy the Dwarves and put them to sleep until later.

Men and Elves are known as the "Children of Ilúvatar," because they were actually created by Ilúvatar. As for Ents, they were also created by the Creator to help Yavanna (a Valar) protect her forests. No one really knows where Hobbits came from. (See The Silmarillion.

"Seduced by evil, Sauron used his crafty skills to make the Rings of Power, which were intended to enslave the races of Middle-earth" (location 1998). 

Sauron himself only made the One Ring, out of the twenty Rings of Power. The "crafty skills" that went into making the other nineteen Rings of Power actually came from Celebrimbor and his smiths, but they got the idea from Sauron. 

Overall, this was a good read, something I can see myself re-reading over and over again. Noble Smith's analysis of the symbolic nature of elements in Middle-earth is insightful and refreshing, despite the factual errors. Considering how he refers to Melkor as a "demigod," this book also appeals to readers who have seen the movies but haven't read the books - you really don't need to have read the books to enjoy The Wisdom of the Shire because he explains the scenes before putting them into perspective.

My rating:

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