As Frodo is trying to escape the Shire in the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring, he has an encounter with several high elves. He laments to the band, led by Gildor, how it is such a shame that the Shire cannot remain the peaceful land of hobbits instead of being terrorized by Black Riders. Gildor responds in a way that does not seem consistent for an elf.
“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.”
Elves, as soon to be evidenced by Rivendell and Lorien, are experts at building places that resist the evil going on in the world around them. If anyone would be confident in the ability to resist evil, it should be an elf. However, even Gildor understood that it was impossible to hold out the world forever.
Further along in their journey however, the hobbits meet someone who seems to be untouched by the world around him.
“The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.”
In the Old Forest, there is no doubt that Tom is the master. However, he has limits to where he is the master. His power is not unlimited.
“Tom’s country ends here: he will not pass the borders. Tom has his house to mind, and Goldberry is waiting!”
Tolkien sensed the delicate balance that Christians must walk. On one hand, we do have territories like Tom Bombadil. We have our own fenced in areas, and that is fine. There’s no doubt that we want to have some level of home if you will. As Christians, we do not want to let false teaching into our doctrinal statements for example. We want to have homes where we can educate our children in the way they should go. These can be very wonderful things as shown by Tom himself. He enjoys his territory greatly just like there are plenty of great things that we, as Christians, can appreciate about these areas that we do not want to let the world force its way into. We can enjoy our faith and families.
Gildor however reminds us of a somber truth that as hard as we try to fence ourselves in, eventually some of the world is going to find its way in and be within our fence. No matter how tight we try to build our own fence, there is going to be a weakness where the world slips in, and the question then is obvious.
What do we do if our own strength to build fences is not enough?
Tolkien does not address that question here directly but forces us to think.