Catholic Church, Classic Literature, Faith, Food, J.R.R. Tolkien, Movies, Stories

Hobbit-fest 2018

Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are nice and all, but my favorite day of the year is my annual Lord of the Rings marathon. Traditionally taking place on the day after Thanksgiving, this is the day that I indulge in watching all three Extended Editions of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, which takes about twelve hours in total. It’s glorious. I also like to plan a hobbit-worthy menu for the day, which includes all seven hobbit meals spaced throughout the day. Really, it’s glorious.

For me, this tradition started several years ago when I was still working in retail and the reality of Black Friday threw out any semblance of enjoying Thanksgiving. I needed something to look forward to in the midst of holiday chaos, and (as a true introvert) I also needed something that was not highly social but was still welcoming to others who might want to join me. Movie marathons are great for this. Also, the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is brilliant and beautiful and deserves to be watched in its entirety (at least) once a year to really appreciate it. Is it as brilliant and beautiful as Tolkien’s books? Of course not. Is it closer to Truth and Beauty than most other movies out there? Absolutely. (However, we will not discusses the obscenities Jackson visited upon the adaptation of The Hobbit.)

Being the true Foodie that I am, I can’t resist the opportunity to not only plan a menu but to plan a themed menu. And when you are going to be spending twelve straight hours in front of the television, incorporating seven different meals into the day isn’t that difficult (basically, you just eat every two hours or so).

Now for those who might be uninitiated in the traditions of Middle Earth, the seven different meals have to do with the habits of Hobbits, who are known for their love of food, beer, and fellowship. Hobbits know how to have a good time and really savor life. In the first movie, Pippin names off all of the meals that hobbits typically eat throughout a given day, horrified that their new guide, Strider, might not be planning on the appropriate food stops. Tolkien based his concept of Hobbits on the simple, down-to-earth folk of the English countryside in the days before the Industrial Revolution. They are not interested in adventures or anything too exotic, but they like a good story, good songs, and a good meal.

As a side note: this year I invited my niece and nephew to join me, who are seven and five years old respectively. They did a pretty good job of sitting through most of the movies, though they did wander off for the majority of The Two Towers, but they were sure to come back for every single meal. My nephew was especially fond of this concept of eating.

Tolkien in his time was well-known for his dislike of anything exotic (i.e. not English), with some particularly strong opinions on French cuisine. As such, I try to keep my menu fairly basic. The only item that Tolkien might object to is my goulash, which is based on a Bavarian recipe. But I am willing to offend Tolkien’s ghost slightly in order to honor my own heritage. And I’m not sure what Tolkien’s thoughts were on coffee, though I am certain he would have deemed it unnecessary and preferred to stick with just tea. However, I am too much of an addict to ever relinquish my coffee at this point.

Now, the key that I have learned from doing this for several years now is that you have to keep the meals small. I used to do a full English fry-up for Second Breakfast, with not only the sausage, bacon, and tomatoes but also an egg, biscuit, and beans. I would also do full sandwiches and more for Luncheon. Basically, I would do what a more typical breakfast and lunch would look like, not really taking into account that I was also eating additional meals on either side of these. So this year I scaled everything back, trying to keep just the essentials that would set the tone for each meal. And I try to keep the later meals simple to prepare and serve, because by that point in the day I am usually getting tired and full and don’t really want to cook anymore. This year, I cooked the goulash in my Instant Pot, which made everything easy and fast with only one pan to wash at the end.

I also try to make things that are explicitly referenced in the movies. For Second Breakfast, I always make sausage, bacon, and tomatoes, because those are all things that the hobbits mention and are seen cooking (first, when Sam and Frodo are first leaving the Shire and later when the four hobbits are stopped at Weathertop). For Elevensies, I make honey bread and seed cakes (lemon poppy seed), which are actually both references to The Hobbit. Bilbo has seed cakes in his pantry when his house is overrun by the dwarves, and honey cakes are what Bilbo and the dwarves are fed by Beorn.

Next year, I’m already thinking that I need to find some rabbit to cook for dinner, with some taters (po-ta-toes).

Some people might question why I put so much effort and thought into doing a movie marathon like this. I mean, yes, it’s partly just because I am a super nerd. But it’s also because sometimes the Real World is just horrible and I need a break from it.

Tolkien himself was often criticized for promoting Escapism, and his response was always that Escapism was nothing to be ashamed of. Being a devout Catholic, Tolkien knew that this world is not our true home, that real Truth and Beauty are still waiting for us beyond this world, and that one purpose of this life is to always be seeking and striving for that Ultimate Reality. He said, “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?” Escapism is not necessarily a bad thing, though like everything it can be harmful if taken to extremes. And if by “escaping” we are reminding ourselves about the good and beautiful things that are out there in the universe, things like virtue and true friendship and love, then we are doing ourselves a service by refortifying our souls.

When I read Tolkien or watch the Lord of the Rings movies, I dive into the world that Tolkien created. It is a world that is so rich, so carefully and thoughtfully constructed, that it often feels more real than our own world. It can be dark and painful, but it is also beautiful and inspiring. And if someone like Tolkien can exist and can dream up such wonderful stories and characters, then there truly is some good in this world and it truly is worth fighting for. And at least once a year, I like to take the time to remind myself of that.

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