We cross the threshold of the old year into the new like the hobbits following Haldir over the rope bridge in Lothlórien, little knowing what we will find on the other side. Some of us have the blessings of elven-wise guides, like parents, grandparents, sage friends, or trustworthy teachers, counselors, and ministers. Others are more alone, with the the feeling of having to make it all up with each new step into the new year. Wherever you stand at this portal to the adventure of life in 2024, if you are a Tolkien reader, you can look to the Professor for a little inspiration for the road ahead. Consider these three resolutions for your enjoyment in the coming months.
Resolution 1: Turn off the screens and notice the greens
Sociologists say that many modern folk suffer from a condition called "plant-blindness" in which, even when we get off our screens and go outside, we don't actually notice the plants all around us. They are a mere background to our human drama. But plants are worth our full attention, because, as Sir David Attenborough demonstrates in his Green Planet series, we depend on them for our every breath and every meal. They not only sustain us, but they can fill our lives with vivid beauty and wonder that you simply can't get second-hand through any device.
J.R.R. Tolkien cherished the green world, and one of his most prized possessions was a field guide to his country's native flora. You can learn the names and habits of hundreds of flowers, know when to expect them, and anticipate their coming in the round of each new year. You can then plan your walks to visit them, spending time getting to know them, and experiencing gratitude for all they provide.
Moreover, if you are fortunate enough to have a garden, you can benefit from the "vitamin G" and the complex of micro-organisms researchers say have a demonstrable positive effect on our mental and immune health. "G" for grand, indeed! So, while there will certainly be some great movies, programs and YouTube channels to tune into in 2024, the resolution to binge-watch plants in all their glory could lift your spirits and give you more of that hobbit hardihood and happiness that makes for a merrier world.
Resolution 2: Don't just appreciate the arts - create them
When you are an artist, one of the commonest and (to me) saddest comments you receive from others is this: I love your work. I can't create anything. This makes me want to go back into each person's childhood, to that point at which they stopped viewing themselves as fitted to being artistic, and encourage them to keep on. Even if the teacher never put a star on your drawings or you didn't get chosen to sing in the school choir, there is art within you waiting to be invited out into the light of day, even if only in absolute private.
Tolkien was a young man during one of the most important artistic revolutions of the modern world - the Arts & Crafts movement that insisted that people's hands, minds, and skills were intended to be employed for the creation of useful beauty. While we can't all be William Morris, every one of us can contribute to the acts of sub-creation that Professor Tolkien dwelt on all his life. You have so many options!
Be like elves, dwarves and men and resolve to play a new instrument this year, or simply sing! Sing boldly like Prince Imrahil's men entering Gondor, or funnily like Frodo on the table top at the Prancing Pony, or like the elves in the trees of Rivendell. Don't worry about how you sound - just sing out! Or take back up the crayons, pencils, pens, and paints you put down as a child and see what you can do with adult hand-eye coordination. Practice Tengwar, illuminate a text, doodle your idea of a dragon or a dwarf. Write poetry, whether it be as simple as the lyrics of a hobbit bath-song or as elven-fair as the dirge of Gil-galad. Learn to knit, sew, or weave like Galadriel's ladies, or to craft small things of wonder as they do in Dale. No one is grading you and everyone is equally deserving of contributing to the enrichment of life that all the arts bring.
Resolution 3: Continue your apprenticeship to the lore
Treebeard had his life priorities straight, beginning with, "Learn now the lore of the Living Creatures!" I know it can be a little intimidating in Tolkien circles to realize the astonishing level of lore-mastery some of our fellows have achieved. We may never be a Tom Shippey, a Verlyn Flieger, or a Scull & Hammond, but this is not a competition. We can each find some part of the vast story that interests us most and become more knowledgeable about it this year, simply because we each deserve the time for learning and reflection.
Perhaps you'd like to learn more about the First Age, or hobbit gardening, or Tolkien's religious life or war experience, or Sindarin, or dwarf culture, or fairy stories, or cooking in Middle-earth, or the downfall of Númenor, or the descendants of Samwise Gamgee. While Tolkien's own writings are always the primary source, our gifted Tolkien scholars have so much to share to help us better understand these tales that resonate so deeply in our lives. Wonderful books, lectures, webinars, courses and moots can be something to look forward to in the year ahead.
Positive and affirming online-and-offline Tolkien communities will welcome your questions and participation, and it just may be that your unique life experiences will help you notice something in your study of the lore that will enrich not just your own life but the lives of fellow readers. Take your time exploring and enjoy the journey - studying Tolkien's lore is a lifelong pursuit.
Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin needed quite a bit of courage crossing Haldir's slender rope bridge over the Celebrant. We can empathize with them, as we look ahead into the unknown land of the new year, and we can find hope in considering that there will be many days ahead in which we will turn to our beloved Tolkien shelves for recovery, escape and consolation. And if we embrace our own powers of sub-creation, there could be beautiful days on which we walk in nature with active appreciation, sing, dance, draw, compose, play, craft, cook, garden, and think and talk of scholarly matters with others who love what we love. Wishing you a very good new year, reader, in shared hope of good things in the days ahead.