On Valentine's Day, better a hobbit's heart than to lust after a lord - Too many people are hoodwinked by our society's cult of romantic love
The other day, a bunch of us in the office, Lord of the Rings fans all, were talking about our favourite characters from the book and movie. I said when I was a girl, I loved to imagine myself as Arwen, the dark-haired Elven princess.
Arwen, for those (few) who've neither read the books nor seen the movie, is the heroic beauty who sacrifices her chance at immortality in order to marry her great love, Aragorn, the handsome, brooding warrior who becomes the High King of Middle-earth.
But, as I joked with the guys here, I didn't end up as Arwen, married to Aragorn. I grew up to be Rose Cotton, married to Sam Gamgee.
That line got a good laugh in the newsroom. Rose Cotton, you see, is no elf princess. She's a short, plump hobbit, with a tendency to be bit bossy with her men-folk. Sam is her hobbit husband, a down-to-earth cook and gardener with hairy feet.
Most of the people I was talking to thought I was taking a shot at my husband. But in actual fact, I think I was really paying him the highest of compliments. As far as I'm concerned, Samwise Gamgee is the real hero of The Lord of the Rings, not Aragorn or Gandalf or Frodo.
Sam isn't a warrior by training or inclination. He isn't looking for glory or adventure.
He gets dragged into danger because of his love and loyalty for his gentle master, Frodo, the soulful hobbit who's been given the great task of destroying the Dark Lord's ring of evil.
As Frodo's squire, Sam travels all the way to heart of the Dark Lord's kingdom, battling orc-goblins, giant spiders and his own fears and frailties. He fights as bravely as any of the story's flashier knights -- more bravely, because he's no superhero with a magic sword, just an ordinary guy overtaken by extraordinary circumstances.
But his real heroism lies in his unshakeable loyalty to his best friend, and in his unshakeable loyalty to his hobbit values, his moral code.
When all the battles and quests are over, Sam returns to his prosaic hobbit life, marrying Rose, raising kids, planting trees and nurturing the community he loves.
The problem is, our culture doesn't validate the heroism of the Samwise Gamgees of this world. The romantic heroes every teenage girl is taught to pine for are the Byronic brooders like Aragorn.
But outside of books and movies, Aragorn-types are hard to come by. So, for that matter, are fantastically beautiful Arwen elf princesses.
No wonder so many people end up disappointed and disillusioned, hoodwinked by our cult of romantic love, which tells us that if we don't end up with an Arwen or an Aragorn, we have failed in the game of life.
On Valentine's Day, in particular, anyone, married or single, who doesn't have a storybook romance is all but encouraged to feel dissatisfied and cheated.
But life is not a fairy tale and love is not a myth. And this is my valentine to my husband, my Samwise Gamgee. I call him that, not because he's short and stocky and hairy-toed -- though he is. I call him that because he's brave and funny and loyal and kind, because he's a fabulous cook who makes the best fried mushrooms I've ever tasted.
He's my hero, because when our daughter breaks a toy he takes out his super-glue and puts the little pieces back together. He's my hero, because when I'm sick he makes me steaming cups of honey-lemon water and steaming pots of chicken soup and rubs my back. He's my hero, because he can roll out a pie-crust, change a tire in a blizzard and settle our little girl to sleep faster than anyone else.
Is he perfect? Far from it. About as far as I am.
Here's my advice on this St. Valentine's Day. Don't flagellate yourself if you're not embroiled in a big-screen love affair with a perfect prince or princess. Whether you're coupled or single, straight or gay, spend today celebrating the heroism of real love -- not "romance, " but the love of friends and family and community, the "ordinary" garden-variety love that conquers darkness. Don't worry about loving like an elf lord or a princess. Love like a hobbit.
And may the hair on your toes grow ever longer.