That Auld Lang Syne

NewYearsEveThe month of January is named such due to ancient Rome who dedicated this month to Janus, the Roman god of doors, gates, and new beginnings.  Janus is also known as “the two-faced god” – not as in a liar, but as in literally having two faces.  Janus’ faces each look in an opposite direction: one looks forward and the other looks backward.  So, New Year‘s celebrations are founded on pagan traditions – as are many other holidays. But did you know that some theories suggest this occurred as early as 153 BC?

January 1st specifically though is known for another Roman celebration.  In 46 BC, Julius Caesar revised the calendar of Rome.  Four years later – after the Roman Senate murdered him – the Roman Senate decided to deify Julius Caesar for his life and his rationalized new calendar.  They would call this the Julian calendar.  Both the Julian and the later-invented Gregorian calendars celebrate New Year’s Day – making it perhaps the only globally-celebrated holiday.  That’s pretty cool, right?

Here’s a catchy bit of information that I did not know though.  Scotland celebrates New Year’s Eve, but they call it Hogmanay.  There is a famous street party in Princes Street in Edinburgh as one example of their celebration.  But GET THIS: that song “Auld Lang Syne” is actually a Scottish poem that dates back to 1788!  Did you ever wonder what exactly it means?  “Auld Lang Syne” is literally translated in Scottish to “Old long since”, or roughly translated as “long long ago” or “days gone by”.  It is used as a “closing” for the old year and so it is also sung at funerals, graduations and as a farewell or ending to other occasions. The international Boy Scout youth movement also uses it as a close to jamborees and other functions.

So when you hear that line of the song “For auld lang syne”, it means “for the sake of old times”.  And you can thank the Scots (and the Irish and the Welsh) for spreading it around the globe, wherever the Celts emigrated to.  And Thanks to “When Harry Met Sally” for asking the question that plagues us all: “what does that mean anyway?”

Happy New Years everyone! ….THE REEL VOICE

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It’s not Such a Small World After All…

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Believe it or not, the world is a very large place.

I don’t know why, but Hobbits have been invading my brain again.  I have seen recent trailers for “The Hobbit”: the Desolation of Smaug“.  With its impeding release – and thus my growing excitement about it – I couldn’t help but think of how grand in scope this film (and the other two in that same trilogy of films as well as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) truly is.  This in turn lead me to think about (as Campbell so aptly described it) the Hero’s Journey.  Many of us are prone to see the Journey on the surface, but in truth there is another Journey …on the inside of the character.  Allow me to explain.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug” (like all the other Peter Jackson / Tolkien-inspired films) is filmed in New Zealand.  That’s the other side of the world to me, quite literally.  I cannot help but think of how long it would take to get there whenever I see it.  A truly marvelous setting for a fantasy film.  Now, I am a HUGE fan of fantasy films and novels.  As a general statement about the genre, those stories often involve a journey.  Not to sound like a dullard here, but isn’t that a necessary component to an adventure?  Anyway, when you consider the story of “The Hobbit“, it is not just a journey or an adventure, but it is also something else: a discovery of the self.

In “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, Gandalf chastises poor Bilbo for refusing his offer to join Thorin and his group.  The wizard calmly explains that when he was younger, Bilbo had a taste for adventure in his blood.  He claims it is due to his heritage (that of being a Took).  After some consideration, Bilbo changes his mind and joins Thorin and the Dwarves.  Along his journey, he will be challenged in ways few people ever are…and it will change him forever.

I guess what I was thinking about was that the world for Bilbo was his home in the Shire.  That was it.  When he was young, he craved adventure but along the way of his life, he became rather rooted in his home.  This is very similar to pretty much everyone I know.  We all grow up and we trade that youthful yearning for adventure for the comforts of home.  It’s not hard to grasp, Bilbo’s story.  It is easy to see that he makes a very bold choice, and one that is fairly out of his comfort zone.  Yet, there is something to this choice that has always made me wonder:  did Gandalf truly know what was in Bilbo’s heart?

In the wide, wide world of New Zealand – or Middle Earth, for that matter – there is nothing more daring than to step outside your comfort zone.  Many things can encourage you to do so.  As time marches on, friendships fade as you drift apart from one another, you see your family less & less, you no longer have as much in common with the people you grew up with, and then suddenly you realize how much you have changed from whom you once were.  There’s no shame or wrong in this; it’s life.  In the case of Bilbo though, he experienced really none of this.  He had abandoned his youth because he had CONVINCED himself that he was a Hobbit through and through…and Hobbits are home-bodies.  In truth, Gandalf saw that Bilbo was living a lie.

In my mind, IF Bilbo had truly changed to become the person he was at the beginning of “The Hobbit“, then he would never have gone on that journey.  Gandalf isn’t convincing Bilbo he needs to change in order to be true to himself; Gandalf is instead reminding Bilbo of what he once longed for – and to point out that there was nothing in the Shire to hold him there any longer.  In a way, Gandalf is like a cruel mirror that reflects the Shire in the way Bilbo once saw it.  And in so doing, Gandalf frees Bilbo.

Great and scary things await poor Bilbo along his travels.  How many of us have faced a similar problem?  You step outside of your normal, comfortable life and suddenly you are faced with trials and tribulations at every turn.  There is only one truth that serves us in these circumstances: know thyself.  If you are embracing your true identity, then nothing can deter you.  If you are living life as the “authentic You” then the rest of what you have always wanted will come to you.  (If anybody is interested in a truly awesome read, I highly recommend Melody Fletcher.)  Sorry if this seems a little out there or off-topic, but I think this has relevance here.

Bilbo finds the adventure of a lifetime outside of his front door and it all begins with one step.  The world is indeed a very large place.  We must look at the tale of Bilbo and his adventure though and see the journey he takes within himself.  He fights trolls and giant spiders, finds magical treasures, and ultimately comes face to face with a beast of true legend: a fire-breathing dragon!  But this is all the surface stuff.  And it is the same crap that almost every hero in every story deals with.  (Read Joseph Campbell if you doubt me.)

The real topic that I am driving at here is Bilbo’s journey within himself.  How does he overcome being away from home and all the comforts it brings?  He uses his home as inspiration for helping Thorin and the Dwarves find THEIR home – or rather, reclaim their home.  He finds his courage when facing Gollum in the cave, not through action but a game of riddles.  At first blush, this seems to be done in kind of an arrogant manner.  A Hobbit is this smart?  But on a deeper level, this interaction looks more like if Bilbo fell into Evil (let’s say he gets greedy for the gold “under the Mountain”), this would be like Bilbo confronting himself.  (Yes, we all know that Gollum WAS a Hobbit and this is closer to the surface truth than I would like, but the analogy still holds up I think.)  So, when you look at this scene again – with this analogy fresh in your head , it actually comes off like a warning to Bilbo.

And what of that warning then?  Does Bilbo heed it?   To some extent, yes, but on the other hand, most assuredly no.  Bilbo finds courage after meeting Gollum.  He fights to save Thorin’s life not long after this meeting.  Why the sudden change in him?  He was separated from the group, forgotten.  He knew the dwarves didn’t particularly like him.  So why return and step up to face the albino orc with the prosthetic limb?  I think Bilbo realized that his home was like the cave to Gollum.  He was happy there, but lost all sight of his true self trapped within his Hobbit Hole.  His happiness was a facade.

Truthfully, he wasn’t like other Hobbits.  When he realized this, he knew he could not abandon Thorin.  Bilbo wasn’t going to retreat back his “cave” for fear of becoming something akin to Gollum.  So he fights, bravely too, and wins much respect for his actions.  I always thought perhaps the One Ring fueled his anger in that fight.  Maybe it gave him strength where he had none before?  Maybe it just made him angry and THAT is what fueled him in battle?  I don’t know the answer there, but it is fun to ponder those questions.

So Bilbo has much to offer us as viewers of his tale, for his journey is both literal and on a deeper psychological level.  Hopefully you have enjoyed this non-review.  I promise, I will try to sprinkle some more articles that are more news-worthy as time goes by.  Thanks for taking the time to read this slight rant about a fictitious Hobbit.   Drop a line and let me know what you think.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.