If you’ve seen “The Hobbit,” you’ll recall the scene in which Bilbo Baggins slips the gold ring on his finger and becomes invisible, thus eluding a creepy character named Gollum. Gollum, becoming more frustrated by the moment, searches for Bilbo — right beneath his nose — in vain, scrambling around and wailing.
If “The Hobbit” is new territory for you and you think Tolkien is something you might deposit into a parking garage pay slot, this will just sound weird, but bear with me here: the whole tale is really about parking. There are pride-fueled battles over sacred territory. There’s a key to a door no one can see. Wayfinding is complicated by a map that can only be read in moonlight. And walking paths are fraught with peril.
The movie reminds me of my recent site visit with a couple of colleagues to a massive parking facility in a major metro area to check out some safety features and pathway striping. Standing against a ground-level wall, we watched — wide-eyed — as drivers and pedestrians violated one another’s boundaries like so many orcs and elves, although no swords were drawn. Drivers ignored arrows. Pedestrians ignored clearly-marked safe paths of travel. The color-coded lines were right under their noses, but seemed invisible.
Unfortunately, the garage has no wizard on hand to impose order and point out steps to take to protect precious lives. This peaceful chaos echoes the movie scene in which the raucous-but-jolly dwarves invade Bilbo’s home and pretty much do whatever they want. I exaggerate slightly, but, really, the experience is an eye-opener.
Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum takes place in a confusing subterranean maze called the goblin tunnels. He’s glad to make his escape. I can relate to his relief. Like Bilbo, we emerged from this place surprised, changed, and wiser.
As Tolkien writes in The Hobbit (chapter 4): “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.”