Bowing!  Here is a practice that has fallen out of the modern fashion.  I remember noticing it at the beginning of The Hobbit, when Bilbo bows to no fewer than 13 dwarves who enter his hobbit hole, exchanging the lines “At your service” and “And at yours.”  Frodo repeats this ritual somewhat more clumsily in the feasting hall of Elrond, when he meets one of those very dwarves again—Gloin, come from Dain’s kingdom under the Mountain.  Frodo discovers this venerable dwarf sitting next to him at table, and immediately proceeds to scatter the cushions on his seat by rising and bowing.

Bowing, I have recently discovered, is by no means so easy at it looks.  There is a stiffness about the modern vertebrae (or, at least, about mine) that hampers the motion and besets the attempt with a very odd if not awkward unease.  Several times now I have attempted to bow at the appropriate times in various liturgical services among the Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox.  There is certainly good reason for bowing at such moments—honoring the name of God, or of any Person of the Trinity, with a bow is hardly an objectionable act.  And yet it comes unnaturally.  I was not bred to such things.  And if it proves so unmanageable in the presence of a god, I suspect I would not attempt it in the presence of a dwarf, however venerable.

This, in conclusion, is part of my reason for loving The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien is archaic and anachronistic even perhaps where he does not mean to be.  Whether or not bowing was still fashionable in the 50’s, it is one of those elements of foreign culture that appears so exotic and charming in the eyes of a barbarian raised in the late 90’s.  Archaism, anachronism, and all the charm of the foregoing are as much a function of the perceiver as they are of the perceived.  The Hobbits are lovable because they belong to an older culture than we.

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