Holidays are a time to indulge–in decadent desserts, bacon-wrapped appetizers, mulled wines, and media. Articles in Slate and The New York Times have chastised those who over-indulge in media, giving these people the derisive label “binge viewers.” We know that the substance of those sugar cookies and pork bellies isn’t healthy, but what about the substance of those media binges? From the Lord of the Rings, to The Walking Dead, to Toy Story, to Harry Potter, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to The Hunger Games, the theme that unites the commonly-marathoned stories is simple: love.
The Building Blocks of Friendship
A hero must surround her or himself with friends in order to defeat the evil force that threatens their way of life. As those friends choose to follow their hero into unspeakable danger, readers and viewers see that the building blocks of those friendships are loyalty, selflessness, and love. Sam is clearly Frodo’s most loyal companion in the Lord of the Rings films, but the books emphasize the broader collection of friends who support Frodo on his journey. Brave hobbit Merry exemplifies this loyal, loving friendship as he reassures Frodo in The Lord of the Rings book,
“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. [. . .] But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. [. . .] We are horribly afraid–but we are coming with you.”
Hermione Granger is less kind than Merry, but the sentiment is still the same. When Harry Potter announces his solo journey at the conclusion of The Half Blood Prince film, Hermione responds, “I’ve always admired your courage, Harry, but sometimes you can be really thick. You don’t really think you’re going to be able to find all those horcruxes by yourself, do you? You need us, Harry.”
The Life Worth Living
Indeed, Harry did need Hermione and Ron, but also Neville, Luna, and other unlooked-for help along the way. What friendship and love accomplishes in these binge-able tales is without boundary. Love gives life meaning. It transforms an individual life into a collective life, and in doing so, it gives greater significance to what could be a solitary existence. Even modern gladiator Katniss Everdeen hangs onto love, not just for her leading men, but for competitors bent on ending her life. She remarks after a fellow tribute’s death, “I should be happy, right? One less tribute to face. And a powerful one, too. But I’m not happy. All I can think about is Thresh letting me go, letting me run because of Rue.”
What readers can take from the stories of Frodo Baggins, Rick Grimes, Sheriff Woody, Harry Potter, Buffy Summers, and Katniss Everdeen is that mercy and survival are not at odds; rather, mercy is essential to survival and to maintaining humanness. In the world of marathoned stories, mercy begets mercy and love begets love. And the merciful, loving life is the life worth living.
This holiday season, be mindful of your food and drink, but indulge in media and its message of love. As you cavort with frantic shoppers, harried travelers, and dysfunctional family members, hold tightly to Gandalf’s words from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: “It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay, small acts of kindness and love.”