Part of ongoing series How Millennials Who Gave up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community
Emerging adults often hold a very optimistic view of the future and truly believe that they will accomplish their dreams and overcome past circumstances, and often they do… just like Hobbits!
by Corey Magstadt • Founder of Launch Ministry
I decided that it was time to introduce my kids (aged 10 and 7) to the unabridged version of LOTR. As we started the first audio book on our long car pool to school, one line from the very first page of the print edition struck me:
At that time, Frodo was still in his tweens, as the hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.
Apparently hobbits have been dealing with this whole emerging adulthood thing a lot longer than we have, so perhaps we ought to look at the life of one such hobbit to see how the characteristics of emerging adulthood play out. Using Jeffrey Arnett’s five characteristics of emerging adulthood as a model, we can see that Peregrin (Pippin) Took perfectly exemplifies emerging adults as we see them today.
1. The age of Instability
Emerging adults often find that their grand life plan encounters complications along the way, and they are forced to revise it, often changing majors, partners, jobs, and especially residences (Emerging Adulthood, Arnett, 2004, p. 10-11).
Instability in Pippin’s character is quite evident throughout the series. His first act of foolishness happens at the Prancing Pony when, after a few pints, he is entertaining the crowd with stories from the Shire and is about to mention the ring, despite the fact that they are on the run with Black Riders in hot pursuit. Later, in the Mines of Moria, Pippin throws a rock down a well which seems to alert the orcs to the presence of the company. Gandalf’s response echos the response of many of us who work with emerging adults: ”Fool of a Took! Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity!”
It is remarkable how often emerging adults change their plans, run into (often self-created) difficulties, and make decisions that cause many of to shake our heads in amazement. Yet this period of instability is an essential part of their development which eventually leads to stabilization of character and a more solidified career path.
2. The age of Identity Exploration
Emerging adults are continually trying out different options in an attempt to figure out who they are and who they’d like to become, particularly in the areas of romantic relationships and careers, where they are focused on finding a person whose qualities would make for a suitable life partner and finding a job that will provide them with a sense of personal fulfillment (Arnett, 2004, p. 8-9).
Pippin begins the journey as a fun-loving immature tween who seems completely unaware of the danger they are in. As the journey continues, he begins to wonder if he made the right decision. Throughout the adventure, he waffles between viewing himself as a useless member of the company
“He felt cold and sick. ‘I wish Gandalf had never persuaded Elrond to let us come,’ he thought. ‘What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage…I hope Strider or someone will come and claim us.’” -Two Towers, p. 42
and someone who is resolved to seeing their task completed despite wondering how he could actually be of help
“I should like to see the White Hand overthrown. I should like to be there, even if I could not be of much use: I shall never forget Uglúk and the crossing of Rohan.” -Two Towers, p. 77
Eventually Pippin becomes a Knight of Gondor and the leadership skills he gains enable him to help retake the Shire after their return home. Yet who he becomes is connected deeply to the period of exploration that he experiences on the journey. His failures are equally as important as his successes in shaping him to become the mature leader that we see at the end of the story.
3. The Self- focused age
Emerging adults tend to delay significant adult responsibilities, such as marriage and parenthood, in an effort to enjoy the opportunity to exercise the freedom they now have without their parents governing their every move. During this stage they tend to focus on themselves and their own personal needs (Arnett, 2004, p. 12-13).
There are a number of places where we see Pippin’s self-focused approach to his tweens. In the movie, one of the classic Pippin lines at the Prancing Pony, “It comes in pints?!” uttered with youthful abandon at the freedom that he is about to experience. Later as they set out with Strider into the wilderness, Pippin is far more concerned about getting fed than staying safe: “What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?”
More destructively, when Pippin finds the palantír (the crystal ball thingee which Saruman used to communicate with Sauron), despite Gandalf’s repeated warnings, Pippin refuses to leave it alone. He wants to use it and ignores the rebukes of both Gandalf and Merry.
For Pippin and probably for most emerging adults, this self-focused approach to life is simply a given. It is very difficult for emerging adults to take their eyes off of their own situations to see the world from a different perspective. This is one thing we work on a lot with our Launch students. Learning to become selfless and to see the world through the eyes of the other is one of the most challenging and most necessary shifts as young people move into adulthood.
4. The age of feeling in between
When asked, “Are you an adult?”, emerging adults often answer “yes and no”. They still feel that they need to meet all three criteria of adulthood (listed above) before they can be considered fully adult, but they do feel a great deal more independent and mature compared to when they were adolescents (Arnett, 2004, p. 14-15).
Pippin most clearly demonstrates this at the Council of Elrond as they are deciding who will be part of the fellowship. Elrond and Gandalf wonder aloud whether Pippin is capable of being a member of the fellowship. Pippin clearly wants to go, yet he also recognizes that he would probably be of less help than some of the others.
Later, Pippin utters this line: “I don’t want to be in a battle, but waiting on the edge of one I can’t escape is even worse.” That is how many emerging adults feel. They don’t quite feel ready to be an adult, yet the period of waiting to become one is a horrible feeling. They don’t feel like the fit anywhere. The Pippin Took who has journeyed across the wilderness with Strider and Frodo could not go back home to live a carefree life in the shire, but he was also not yet ready to serve as a Knight of Gondor. He was in-between and he clearly hated it.
Part of our task is to recognize that emerging adults do not feel as if they fit anywhere. We can’t treat them like high school students but we also can’t expect the same maturity as adults. They are in-between and only time can help them move out of it. We need to simply walk alongside them through this period of discomfort and help them avoid as many potential pitfalls as possible.
5. The age of possibilities
Emerging adults often hold a very optimistic view of the future and truly believe that they will accomplish their dreams and overcome past circumstances, such as an unhappy home life, in an effort to become the person they’d like to be (Arnett, 2004, p.16-17).
This is one of the most visible, most annoying and most encouraging characteristic of emerging adults. They believe that they can do anything because that is what they have been taught since childhood. (See the Saturday Night Live clip below for an amusing overstatement of this trait).
Pippin has his own moments of brash boldness. After the Council of Elrond, he declares:
”That’s what I meant. We hobbits ought to stick together, and we will. I shall go, unless they chain me up. There must be someone with intelligence in the party.” -The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 124
He later volunteers to become a Knight of Gondor. He represents the hobbits in the final battle against Sauron.
That’s what is amazing about this characteristic: Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes they can do way more than we expect of them. Sometimes they can’t and then they need to be encouraged and gently redirected. But sometimes they can. It is our loss if we don’t give emerging adults opportunities to succeed or fail spectacularly.
Pippin’s growth and maturity through the series echos our hopes for the young people that we work with. We know that they will make mistakes. We know that there will be bumps in the road. But we also know that when we get to the end of the story, we will see that an amazing transformation has taken place.
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Corey Magstadt is the founder and Executive Director of Launch Ministry. He is the author of the You Are Not Alone small group curriculum for parents of struggling young adults. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.