Sarah’s Slice of Life: Wild Lands of Autumn

It’s been 17 years since Gandalf has last visited the Shire. Bilbo Baggins has already disappeared in a spectacular fashion during his 111th birthday party, and his nephew Frodo is now becoming restless for adventure. He has taken to looking at maps, but these show nothing but blank, empty spaces in the lands beyond his comfortable life with the hobbits in the Shire. Frodo finds the old paths too well-trodden, and he thirsts for something new, something grand.

It’s with this mindset that Frodo “found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.”

So begins Frodo’s legendary journey in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “The Fellowship of the Ring” — with a yearning for adventure. This quote aptly summarizes Frodo’s desire for new lands and experiences, but it’s the season in which his desire is most powerful that I find particularly interesting. Tolkien takes special care to write that Frodo wondered most strongly in one specific season — autumn.

Why? Tolkien’s world is stuffed with fantastical creatures, lush green hills that roll like waves and realms of mountains, magic and mist. Why would something as simple and ordinary as autumn — a season we experience every year in our very pointedly nonmagical world — help to inspire something as grand as Frodo’s journey through Middle-earth?

Even if you’re not a die-hard fan of fall, you probably know someone who is. Although the season might not be inspiring people to journey to Mount Doom to destroy an evil ring every year, we know people obsessed with all things fall — friends and family infatuated with pumpkin spice lattes, football season and sweater weather. 

However, autumn itself is not so shallow, existing only to satisfy our cravings for pumpkin-flavored things. Something deeper resides within this ordinary season that follows the end of summer every year without fail. 

Even though the changing of the leaves is the most basic component of autumn, ushering in this time of cooler weather, I think it might be one of the most important. For one thing, it turns the world into a realm of noticeable beauty. Who can ignore the bright gold tones and deep red notes of the trees when they change? The bright, dazzling colors beg for our attention. 

Most ordinary things hide in plain sight. They pass us without ceremony or invitation because they exist often and always. Autumn is different. Instead of hiding, it glows. 

Its flavors, colors and smells demand attention, and even the most oblivious person is likely to notice a golden tree or the earthy scents of an autumn twilight. It’s hard to remain unaware of autumn’s great beauty when every step crinkles a pile of fallen leaves. 

Along with autumnal beauty, the changing of the leaves points to just that — change. Most of us might be wary of change. We might even fear it. After all, change means venturing out of our comfort zones and doing something new and potentially difficult. 

However, autumn reminds us that change can be beautiful too. Change can be necessary for growth, just as the leaves must change, die and fall in order to regrow when spring blooms. Yes, autumn does lead to bare tree branches and cold, wintery light, but it allows us to remember there will always be a spring waiting in the future, waiting to return sunlight, warmth and color to the world. 

These two facets of fall — beauty and change — are what I believe inspired Tolkien to have Frodo yearn for adventure “especially in the autumn.” Even in someplace as fantastical and wonder-filled as Middle-earth, autumn still helped kickstart one of the greatest adventures in literary history. 

Imagine what it can do for us in our world, devoid of wizards, magic and elves. Here, autumn is its own kind of magic. It brings our attention to how beautiful our world really is even during the most ordinary fall day. It encourages us to wonder about something as simple as a red leaf. It helps us adjust to change and growth. 

And it just might inspire us to step out from our own Shires and find a new world to explore. 

Tate is the Editor-in-Chief for the Liberty Champion

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