This is not a weight loss article. I am not here to announce in monotone, “Hi. My name is Phillip Lytle and I am overweight.” Yes, my name is Phillip Lytle and I am overweight, but this is not about that. Maybe some other time. Unsurprisingly to anyone who has been reading my stuff for Rambling Ever On, this article is Tolkien-related. Fatty Bolger is a hobbit and recently, I came to appreciate him in ways I did not anticipate.
Who is Fatty Bolger?
If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you should know who Fredegar “Fatty” Bolger is. He is a friend of Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry. He is the hobbit who stays behind; the one who does not go “there and back again.” While his Hobbit friends help shape the fortunes of the world with their heroism, Fatty Bolger remains in the Shire.
If your knowledge of The Lord of the Rings is only based on the films, then none of that will sound familiar. While the filmmakers did an amazing job adapting the story, many great subplots and elements had to be condensed, cut out, or reshaped to fit it all into three, three-hour films. Fatty Bolger’s name is mentioned in the films, but that is about it. Yet, his small role in the books always stood out to me, though for reasons I did not fully appreciate until recently.
The one who stays behind
Prior to setting out on his quest, Frodo Baggins moves from Hobbiton to Crickhollow. (Crickhollow was a suburb of Hobbiton in a manner of speaking.) Frodo has purchased a house in Crickhollow where he is going to “retire.” At least, publicly, that is his plan. Privately, he plans to leave the Shire and head out for Rivendell, taking the ring of power with him. He hopes that in Rivendell, wiser people than he will be able to decide what to do with the ring and that his adventure will be over.
Of course, things do not work out as Frodo hopes. On his first night in Crickhollow, he discovers that Sam, Pippin, Merry, and Fatty are all aware of the ring and his plans and they plan to accompany him to Rivendell. Well, all of them but Fatty Bolger. He has no desire to leave the Shire. He plans on staying at Frodo’s new house and dealing with “inquisitive folk, and to keep up as long as possible the pretense that Mr. Baggins was still living at Crickhollow.”
The tug of discontentment
We might be tempted to see Fatty as a coward. I think that assessment is unfair. Fatty Bolger is not heroic in the traditional sense, but he does have an important part to play. For many of us, that speaks to exactly where we are.
Speaking personally, I work a job I do not love, get paid less than I deserve, and battle daily with the nagging feeling that my life is not the grand adventure I dreamed it could be when I was a child. Back then, stories of heroes and warriors dominated my thinking and my aspirations. I was meant for greatness, of that I had no doubt. Working in a small, gray cubicle for 40 hours a week is not what my young imagination had in mind. Living in a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house in a suburb of Nashville, while fighting with traffic to and from work every day would not exactly line up with my childhood dreams.
I have many friends who struggle with the same sort of feelings. We ask ourselves many questions: “Is this it?” “Am I really living the best life I can?” “Why don’t I feel contentment?” I think those types of questions are natural. We see others living lives that look more adventurous, glamorous, and exciting. We watch our friends work jobs that appear exciting and fulfilling and we see them live the sort of lives that are the stuff of great stories. At least, that is our perception when we are feeling the tug of discontentment in our lives.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes
As I said, this is an area where I have struggled in the past and one I occasionally have to battle in the present. In my most recent reading of The Lord of the Rings, one small sentence stood out and it helped me gain some much-needed perspective on this matter.
After Frodo and his companions depart, Fatty Bolger plays his part. He stays in Frodo’s house and keeps up appearances. One night, a few of the Black Riders approach the house. (The Black Riders were some of the enemy’s most fearsome servants.) Remember, Fatty is not the bravest of souls. He did not want any adventures. Even so, Tolkien makes it clear that Fatty was not caught unprepared. Tolkien delivers the profound truth in six simple words: “Fatty Bolger had not been idle.”
Finding peace in our journey
I love that sentence. Not everyone is called to greatness, like Frodo Baggins or Samwise Gamgee. We are not all gifted with the ability to perform great acts of heroism and bravery. Some of us are called to stay home, live life to the best of our abilities, and make a difference when and where we can.
I have not been called to greatness in the traditional sense. However, that in no way diminishes my calling to be a loving and faithful husband. It does not lessen my gifting to be a good father. My call to greatness is to live the life God has given me with thankfulness, excellence, and joy. My mission is to be prepared when my name is called and to have it said of me, “Phill Lytle had not been idle.”
I am Fatty Bolger, and that is okay.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. – Colossians 3:23-24