Thirteen dwarves and one hobbit have been wandering around in Mirkwood forest, seemingly in circles. At their wits’ end, the hobbit, one Bilbo Baggins, being the smallest and lightest of the company (as well as the burglar under whose contract such tasks might fall), climbs a tree to try to get a handle on their location and the direction they should go. His head bursts through the leaves at the top of the tree into blessed sunlight and a flock of black butterflies, and as he looks around he sees…
Well, what he sees depends on whether you are watching the movie or reading the book, and out of all the changes and additions that Peter Jackson made when adapting The Hobbit for the big screen, this minor difference in the second film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is one of the things that bothered me the most. In the movie, Bilbo becomes excited because he can see the Lonely Mountain in the distance. He can then tell the dwarves the correct direction to go and that they are not far from the edge of the forest. It is a moment of hope after the despair of Mirkwood.
In the book, there is no such hope for Bilbo. It turns out that the tree he climbs happens to be in a low spot and all he can see is more trees on every side, even though they are actually quite close to the edge of the forest and all is not nearly as hopeless as it seems. What Bilbo lacks is the ability to see the big picture at that moment.
While a hopeful scene of seeing the goal and the way out makes you feel better in the midst of the movie drama, I think I like the book version better because it is much closer to how things work in real life. The truth is, we don’t see the big picture when we are suffering or making our way through a difficult situation. In fact, when I wrote about the book scene several years ago during my “blog through The Hobbit,” I too was near the edge of the forest but could not see it from my vantage point. I had spent two years looking for another teaching job with another summer of searching ahead of me but few prospects in sight. The only sign of hope was the sale of my house a few months prior, allowing me to expand my job search parameters, but even with new job listings to watch I didn’t know how much longer it would be. I did not know then that later that summer, I would have an interview with a principal via Skype. I did not know that, having chalked it up as one more interview without a job offer, I would be travelling five hours for a face-to-face interview the next month. I didn’t know that less than a week after that I’d be moving to another state and starting work (barely two days before the students started themselves) and living in a hotel while I tried to get a classroom set up and find an apartment!
So I hope you’ll excuse me if I’m not impressed with the touchy-feely, “oh look, there’s hope!” scene in the movie. I have been in the same position as book-Bilbo, looking around and seeing nothing but trees rising all around me, hoping that maybe the edge of the forest was somewhere just beyond, even though I couldn’t see it. And it turns out, in hindsight, that I was exactly in book-Bilbo’s position, and the edge of the forest was quite close, but the tree I looked from was still down in the valley and not up on the ridge. It turns out that it’s never as hopeless as it seems, for Bilbo or for me. I have learned through my experience that sometimes you can’t see the end, but it doesn’t mean there’s no hope, it just means that you cannot see the whole picture. It means that you have to trust. I pray I may never have to be in the same situation again, but at least now I know that there’s always hope, even in the most hopeless-seeming situations, and I won’t give up just because I can’t see what’s out there.