A Celebration of Home
by Olivia Holder
This movie (first in the Lord of the Rings series) tells the story of a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins who embarks on a long journey to destroy a dangerous magic ring. The life of every creature in his world, Middle Earth, depends on his success. All are threatened by the imminent ascension to world dominance of “the dark Lord Sauron,” and only a journey over great mountains, through gloomy mines, and towards “a barren wasteland riddled with fire and ash and dust [where] the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume” can save them. Thus, the greatness and valor of the journey is emphasized, yet, at the same time, the purpose of this undertaking is to protect and maintain homes and lives from the dark shadow of Sauron’s rule. This film ultimately celebrates the simple pleasures of home, chief among them being food.
The heroes of this tale are hobbits who, ironically, are known to be homebodies who spend their days eating seemingly endless rounds of food. It is curious, then, that the events of the story are set into motion by the adventure of Frodo’s uncle, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. On this adventure, Bilbo found the ring of power and brought it home with him to the land of the hobbits, The Shire. When we are first introduced to Bilbo, the visit of his old friend, Gandalf the wizard, takes us into his home.
As Gandalf makes his way into Bilbo’s home, he interacts with few items, but he does take time to pick up a map and linger on it, giving the camera the opportunity to look over Gandalf’s shoulder and giving the viewer a close up of a painstakingly drawn and careworn map of Bilbo’s first adventures. This shot, however, is interrupted by Bilbo offering to make Gandalf eggs and Gandalf’s reply that just tea would be fine. Moments later Bilbo walks over to the little round window of his hobbit hole and while looking out exclaims, “I want to see mountains again, Gandalf. Mountains! And then find a quiet place where I can finish my book.” His dreamy look is quickly replaced with a startled realization, and his very next line is “Oh, tea!” He then scurries over to the fire to retrieve the kettle of boiling water and pours it into a cup on the table. This scene is shown with a medium shot featuring the entirety of Bilbo’s delightful kitchen. The room is a warm yellow filled with natural sunlight and stocked with fresh loaves of bread; jars of honey; plates filled with tomatoes, generous wedges of cheese, muffins, and slices of toast; baskets overflowing with fresh produce; and a full supply of cooking implements such as pots and jars.
These two scenes are examples of the movie’s consistent juxtaposition of adventure and food (and its connection to the home) and food’s triumph over wanderlust. The fear that fuels this adventure is that Sauron will “cover all the lands in a second darkness.” Midway through the movie, Frodo is reminded of his threat when he is given a chance to see into the future that will exist if he fails his task. He sees his home, the Shire, destroyed by the hand of Sauron. The green hills of are turned into a smoking wasteland, the market which once held displays of vegetables and meats is a pile of glowing embers, and the jolly hobbits are miserable, enchained slaves. With hobbits, the veneration of both food and the land are intimately linked.
The start of the film features a voice over that is emphasized by an accompanying black screen. It claims, “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.” This idea that the land conveys information, positive or negative, and evokes emotions exists in a world that maps the quality and enjoyableness of food onto its proximity to the land. The Shire is an insulated and self-sustaining place. In the same shot that meat is displayed at the market, the animals that are destined to fill the same stalls are shown roaming and feeding off the land. The produce from these self same markets fills Bilbo’s baskets in his kitchen. After welcoming him in the door, Bilbo proudly offers Gandalf “a bottle of the old vineyard,” a product of his land, that was “laid down by [his] father.”
When the hobbits leave the Shire to embark on their journey, they fear the loss of their culture. Pippin worries that their traveling companion, the man Aragorn, does not observe all the meals that hobbits enjoy. With concern, in reference to breakfast he says, “We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast? What about elevenses? Luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper? He knows about those doesn’t he?” Away from the Shire and on the road, cultural identity based on food is in danger. The threat also looms that they themselves will become food. Bilbo describes his encounter with the trolls saying, “They were all arguing amongst themselves about how they were going to cook us. Whether it be turned on a spit or whether they should sit on us one by one and squash us to jelly.” This threat met the fellowship outside of the mines of Moria when tentacles shot out of the waters to grab the hobbits and an enormous lake monster reared its ugly head and opened its gaping mouth to eat them.
In contrast to these fears and loos of culture that generally characterize life on the road, one of the greatest moments of fraternity and harmony of the tenuously connected fellowship occurred on passage south. There, as a hobbit, Sam, cooked a very typical hobbit fare of sausages, tomatoes, chicken, and bread, around him, the fellowship, in a rare display of unity, jokes, teaches, and cheer each other on. Although a path of discord, fighting, and danger awaits them, in this section of their road, a homelike atmosphere pervades as the aromas of sizzling food sweetened the crag of their camp. Towering over martial prowess or the evil forces that encroach, this scene of great accord, celebrates the very lifestyle that the journey seeks to protect. Around the pot, adventure is tamed and simplicity and harmony rule.