Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Friendship the Key to Great Undertakings

The structure of the Ring Quest in The Lord of the Rings makes the point that friendship is more effective for great undertakings than planning, however well done the latter may be. (Gandalf practically says as much in his argument to Elrond about why Merry and Pippin should be allowed to go with Frodo.) When you plan for an undertaking, you are preparing to establish means and overcome obstacles, but planning, however wise, is limited by what can be foreseen. Even the wise cannot see all ends. Friendship, on the other hand, adapts; friend covers for friend, friend advises friend, and friends share strengths and compensate for each other's weaknesses. It is friendship that carries Merry and Pippin through; it is the friendship of Sam that carries Frodo through; the friendship of the whole Fellowship is what structures the entire book. And note that while Elrond rightly foresees the problems of the Shire, planning to send Merry and Pippin back to deal with them, in reality the problems of the Shire are overcome by friendship, as well, and by what the hobbits have achieved together. Had Merry and Pippin been sent back they may have faced the same fate as the hobbit-friend of Frodo most people forget, Fredegar Bolger. Fatty Bolger, you might remember, was the friend who stayed behind pretending to be Frodo so that people wouldn't know that he had left the Shire, and to inform Gandalf (who was supposed to have come but had not) where Frodo went. He barely escaped with his life when the Black Riders came for Frodo, but he did escape and got the Buckland horns blowing in alarm. When ruffians began to overrun the Shire, we are told in the Appendices, Fredegar led a band of rebels against them in the north; but after a while they hunted him down, throwing him in the Lockholes where they virtually starved him until he was not Fatty any more. Fredegar is one of my favorite minor characters in the book, and a true hero -- but he did not have a way to stop the ruffians, and had Merry and Pippin been sent back, uneducated by their grand adventure, they probably would have had the same problems. The Shire is scoured because the friends helped each other to a point where together they could solve a problem they could not otherwise have solved.

The superiority of friendship over planning for great undertakings is a significant part of human life; it is the reason why civil society is really constituted by its friendships, not its procedurs, and it is part of the reason why charity is superior to prudence.