Staying with Hobbits, Dining with Orcs

“Outside is the night and strange things in the night”

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Recently I had the great joy and pleasure of being hosted by a wonderful Catholic family in Saskatoon. The parents and their six homeschooled children, who ranged from 2 to 12 in age (four girls and two boys), were truly inspirational. I joined them in the daily Rosary and discussed with them the Catholicism of The Hobbit, which all the older children had read with their parents. The older boy had read The Lord of the Rings three times, not bad for a 10-year-old! The younger boy asks guests with all due decorum and solemnity to join his hobbit tribe. I volunteered to join as Barliman Butterbur, the landlord of the Prancing Pony in Bree. The 4-year-old recited from memory a whole page from The Little House on the Prairie, prompted occasionally by her siblings. What a delightful family and what a joy and honor to be their guest!

Having experienced the true peace and real culture of the domestic church, I found myself in very different company on the following day as I made my way back home from Canada. Whilst having lunch at a restaurant in Chicago's O'Hare airport, reading Ratzinger between bites of ravioli, I was rudely roused from my theological grappling by the arrival of a group of drunken orcs.

I’m ashamed to confess that the orcs in question were of the English tribe, one of the most common, and from their accents I deduced that they were from the north of that unfortunate and orc-infested country.

I put Ratzinger to one side and watched with morbid fascination the gross and grotesque spectacle unfolding before me.

I observed the first male orc make room for himself and his luggage on the bench of the booth, forcing his female “partner” to take her place without any table space in front of her. I shivered at the lack of chivalry but the female orc seemed to expect no better treatment. Other male and female orcs arrived to join them and a debauch of uncouthness was let loose. The first male orc had an obnoxious and diabolical laugh that seemed to emit satanic scorn with every brazen guffaw. As he ate, the masticated contents of his mouth were visible for all to see. Not once did he close his mouth to conceal his lunch from those unfortunate enough to look in his direction.

At one point, the gathering of orcs had great fun mimicking those with mental disabilities, causing me to cast a furtive glance at the old lady at the next table, who was clearly suffering from dementia. Her daughter and elderly husband did not seem to notice, for which I was thankful.

Paying for my lunch, I placed Ratzinger in my bag and took my leave from the disturbed and disturbing scene. For the remainder of my journey home I was haunted by the shadow of the English orcs and couldn’t help comparing their utter decadence and corruption with the sweet symphony of love that I had experienced in Canada. Arriving home at my own hobbit hole, I was pleased to be greeted by old friends, an elderly couple who were the parents of eight and grandparents of 17 (and counting!). By comparison, the orcs had no children with them and I couldn’t help wondering whether they had chosen to kill any of their own children.

Mindful that I should not sit in judgment, I reminded myself that the orcs probably had orcs as parents and that they knew no better. Brutalized as children they all too easily became brutes themselves, aided and abetted by an education system that specializes in the denigration of virtue and the propagation of vice. What hope did they ever have of being anything but orcs?

Comparing the culture of life that I had shared in Saskatoon with the culture of death that I had witnessed in the airport, I was reminded of the words of Hilaire Belloc about the Catholic Church: “Outside is the night and strange things in the night.” I was also struck by the contrast between the light within and the darkness without. It might indeed by dark on the outside but inside is the light and wonderful things in the light.