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The Liberation of Lobelia and the Gandalf-ication of Frodo

Painting of Frodo and Lobelia from the Lord of the Rings
"Lobelia Rescued from the Lockholes" - Miriam Ellis

Calling all Lobelia Sackville-Baggins fans! It's only in becoming more involved in the Tolkien community that I have realized the great affection many readers feel for this complex and unforgettable hobbit elder. She is tart, tough, and more courageous than most of her neighbors, and when a kind patron and serious Tolkien fan - Bonnie Marques - let me know she'd like to see an illustration of Lobelia's rescue from the Lockholes, I immediately began imagining the drama of the scene. I'd like to dedicate this painting to Ms. Marques for inspiring me to reflect further on these passages of transformation and deep meaning. I believe they have applicability to any scenario in which enmity has taken the upper hand in relations between folk where love might exist, instead.

How Brave Lobelia Rescues Herself

Detail from "The Springle-ring" - Miriam Ellis

It must be said that our initial introduction to Lobelia by J.R.R. Tolkien is not a very flattering one. As Professor Tom Shippey has described in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, her surname is a pun on the pretensions of people who live in Bag Ends and we are immediately told in "A Long-expected Party" that she dislikes Bilbo and detests Frodo. At the birthday celebration, she is offended by Bilbo referring to his guests as making up "One Gross", and positively scowls at the mention of Frodo coming into his inheritance. When Bilbo disappears, she exits the party "in wrath".

She does allegedly have one interesting quality in common with Bilbo: burglary! She has supposedly stolen many of Bilbo's silver spoons while he was away on his journey to the Lonely Mountain, pilfering pies, the wine of an Elven King, and a troublesome Ring. What if Thorin and Company had chosen Lobelia as their expert treasure hunter? I don't think William, Bert and Tom would've stood a chance against her! But, that's not how history unfolded and, in general, we come to understand that Lobelia bears our beloved protagonists an enormous grudge for their possession of the best hole in the ground in Hobbiton.

However, as Frodo's great adventure is drawing to a close, we come to see Lobelia in a very different light. The Shire has been overrun by Saruman and his henchmen, and the humble hobbits are too bewildered and frightened to defend themselves. Who can help cheering for this game and seasoned hobbit when we learn from Tom Cotton that she has taken after the ruffians with her "umberella", saying, "I'll give you Sharkey, you dirty thieving ruffians!"

For this, she is dragged away to the root cellars that have been turned into a prison in Michel Delving, and we experience a very emotional moment in which she is finally released by her old enemy, Frodo:

"There was Lobelia. Poor thing, she looked very old and thin when they rescued her from a dark and narrow cell. She insisted on hobbling out on her own feet; and she had such a welcome and there was such clapping and cheering when she appeared, leaning on Frodo's arm but still clutching her umbrella, that she was quite touched and drove away in tears. She had never in her life been popular before." - The Return of the King, Book VI, Chapter 8, The Scouring of the Shire

This remark about Lobelia's lifelong lack of popularity indicates that she has not lived in such a way as to make friends with her neighbors. That's a very sad thing, and while it's outrageous that the invaders imprisoned her, she is strangely transformed by her trials. Once upon a time, Lobelia might have refused to take the arm of the young kinsman whom she saw as an obstacle to her possession of Bag End, but now, she not only leans upon him for support, but sheds a tear at the welcome she receives from the crowd.

Lobelia has only a short time left to live differently. The shock of losing her unfortunate son, who haplessly became mixed up with the Shire colonizers, destroys any pleasure she could have had in continuing to live at Bag End, and she returns to her own folk at Hardbottle. When she passes away the following spring, her transformation is evident in her bequest of all her money as a fund for helping hobbits who have lost their homes.

And this is why we can say that, though dear Frodo physically lets Lobelia out of the Lockholes, it is she who has the heart and courage to rescue herself from a life misspent in envy, feuds and grudges. In my illustration, I've tried to capture a sense of her change of heart in the presence of the dead, prickly thistles behind her as she turns to accept a fresh bouquet of the year's last wildflowers from a small hobbit lass who is rejoicing in the liberation of the Shire. Make no mistake - thistles are wonderful, hardy plants I happen to love, and Lobelia's lifelong toughness is admirable, but it's in her choice of mercy that she becomes a hobbit hero, in true Baggins fashion. I hope you will enjoy considering the goodness and kindliness of her final gesture in watching this brief video short:

Lobelia fans have good reason to enjoy her for her peppery originality and heroic bravery, but also for the example she sets for all younger hobbits who are watching her of overcoming pride and selfishness in order to spread the blessings of peace and plenty.

The Gandalf-ication of Frodo

Illustration of Gandalf by Miriam Ellis
Detail from "Not the Wandering Wizard" - Miriam Ellis

I cannot write about 'The Scouring of the Shire' and 'The Grey Havens' without taking a moment to note the transformation that Lobelia's younger relative has undergone. Frodo's most recent life experiences have changed him from the hobbit who wished that Bilbo might have killed Gollum when he had the chance into one who is doing everything he can to prevent any more violence in the Shire. Under Gandalf's apprenticeship, Frodo has come to understand that there are far greater forces at work in Middle-earth, the contemplation of which leave little room for petty emotions and squabbles. Lobelia is no longer Frodo's foe. She is his much-suffering kinswoman, and spoons and smials are of little matter, in the end.

In the illustration that I have done of this evocative scene at the Lockholes, Frodo bears a token of his long journey in the brooch on his cloak, and an amulet against his own intense sufferings in the star upon his breast.

Through self-sacrifice, Frodo has learned one of the great Tolkienian virtues: mercy. Through this, he has helped to save the Shire, if not for himself, and as the dark clouds of the story drift away and are replaced by healthy sunlight, we can hope that young hobbits were present to witness his gentleness and compassion before he departed.

No matter how many times you read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, there are always new lessons to be learnt from it. May we all have the wisdom of Frodo, and like Lobelia, use our fund of courage to rescue ourselves from the root cellars of hatred and walk free into the bright day of love.


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