When our three-year-old son was a baby he had a stuffed lamb that my wife and I, in a bit of imagination, decided to call “Lamby.”
Wendell loved Lamby. He did not sleep without him. In fact, he would fall asleep sucking on the right ear. (Eventually Lamby became a biology experiment that no amount of washing on the deep sanitize setting could undo—Wendell was getting a rash on his chin where the lamb would rest as he slept. So Lamby “disappeared” and is now hiding in the master bedroom closet to be returned at a later date.)
One of my favorite things about parenting is seeing that first thing your child loves.
When Davy Joy was 18 months old someone gave us a Little Mermaid book that we would read to her sometimes. One night during her bath she laid down on her back, kicked her feet a little, and said, “I’m a mermaid.” (This may have been her first full sentence, actually.)
Part of the reason I love seeing that is because of how these little loves are so essential to what makes us human and can even work to preserve our humanity. Tolkien talks in The Return of the King about our loves begin small but they prepare us to love greater things:
“It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little.”
One of Tolkien’s great themes in The Lord of the Rings is how these seemingly small loves are essential to our ability to do great things because without them we either lack motivation or we are motivated by the wrong things and our actions come to ruin.
Virtually every prominent character in the book comes to places of significant moral choosing and it is not overstating the point to say that their choice nearly always comes back to the question of what they love.
We learn at one point that Faramir is unlike Boromir because Boromir has come to love battle for its own sake. He loves the glory and the spectacle. And when temptation comes, he falls because he doesn’t love anything more than glory—his love for the glory of Gondor is just enough to save him in the end. But it is a narrow thing and even his triumph comes after a cataclysmic failure. Faramir, in contrast, loves higher things and these higher loves save him.
Similarly, when the Nazgul descends to attack Theoden at the gates of Minas Tirith, Theoden’s knights fall to the ground with their head on their hands. But first one and then another of Theoden’s riders rise up to resist. Eowyn stands first—strengthened by love of Theoden. Merry follows her, strengthened by his love for Eowyn.
Then, of course, there’s the love of simple things that motivate both Sam and Frodo to continue the hardest part of the quest. It is their love for the Shire and for each other that carries them to the end of their task.