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Of Hobbits and Humans: The Fall 2019 Ducharme Lecture

Paige feature

Paige Hochschild, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Mount’s Theology Department, illuminated J.R.R. Tolkien’s wisdom in the fall 2019 Ducharme Lecture titled, “Sin and ‘The Gift of Mortality’ in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.” Hochschild suggested that readers of the trilogy are invited, like the main character Frodo, “to grow up, and enter the great story of the human experience.”  In doing so they participate in what Tolkien called “the Pattern” of the struggle between good and evil found in nearly all great literature.  By startling “the reader with the initial strangeness of what is not familiar,” Tolkien stimulates the imagination to see anew the dignity of humanity and the goodness of creation.  Throughout her lecture, Hochschild referred to common texts in the university’s core curriculum to illustrate how Mount students travel the same journey.

paige5.pngHochschild covered three aspects of sin found in Tolkien’s literature: forgetfulness, non-acceptance, and the desire for power. Willfully forgetting “that one is not the beginning and end of ‘meaning’” is a delusion that separates humanity from its historical roots and the “specific parameters of being a creature.”  Hochschild used the character of Faramir, who allows ancient lore to guide him to help Frodo and Sam, as a model of those who don’t forget. 

Tolkien presents “acceptance” as a solution to the sin of forgetting, while the failure to “accept the circumstances of life as given to us” is a sin.  Acceptance of one’s own reality and that of others is a “starting point” for effective judgment and action.  On the other hand, non-acceptance ignores where one is and the circumstances of being a creature.  The characters of Denethor and Saruman in different ways illustrate this element, while Gandalf wisely accepts a “true knowledge of one’s part within the whole.”  To accept is not to submit, but to come to terms with the circumstances of life, and, from that acceptance, to make beneficial actions.

Hochschild next discussed the desire for power. This element intertwines with the purpose of the ring and the internal struggle Tolkien’s characters face. The ring provides invisibility and longevity, which is desirable to mortals, but the greed for power prompts humans to control persons and things so that they become detached from ethical reasoning.  Hochschild observes that Frodo succumbs to this desire in the end when he “claims the ring as his own” and for Tolkien “there’s no other way this could have happened.” 

The three sins of forgetting, non-acceptance, and the will for power all connect with what Hochschild calls the “true central drama of the Lord of the Rings,” the drama of time.  The elves, who possess the gift and the curse of immortality, envy the mortality of humans because, as Hochschild stated, human limitations “make it possible to discern the moral greatness of which we are capable, and the kind of happiness and flourishing of which we are worthy.”   Inspired by this knowledge, we must all, like the hobbits, return to the Shire “to rout the evil that has spread from Mordor.” 

paige4.pngThe well-attended Ducharme Lecture ended with a lively exchange of questions and answers followed by a large group of students encircling Hochschild.  The Ducharme Lecture invites scholars to foster the integration of learning in the Mount’s core curriculum. The ongoing series is named in honor of Robert Ducharme, Ph.D., who advanced the Mount’s mission for 39 years in his role as English professor and department chair.  This series is made possible by Raphael Della Ratta, C’92, who was an English major and a philosophy minor at the Mount. Ducharme and Della Ratta both attended Hochschild's lecture.