Finding God in 'The Hobbit'
The amiable Bilbo Baggins, the title character in “The Hobbit,” is a creature of habit caught by surprise when he is whisked away on the adventure of a lifetime.
Darrell Gwaltney, dean of the school of religion at Belmont University, said Bilbo's “unexpected journey” is not unlike that of Christians during the Advent season.
“We usually focus on Advent as a watching for the coming of Jesus, but the truth is we are on a journey, too,” Gwaltney said recently.
“While Bilbo wrestled with his longing for the comforts of home, he discovered he could do more than he ever imagined on his journey. Traveling with Bilbo on his journey can help teach us to live with more risk this Advent as we join the unexpected journey toward the hoped for Christ.”
The university dean is one of many scholars around the country who have joined in discussions about religious themes in J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved book “The Hobbit.” All the current talk about the book, which follows the adventures of Bilbo, the wizard Gandalf and a host of dwarves, is most likely due to Friday's premiere of Peter Jackson's movie “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
Gwaltney's take on Bilbo's journey was the subject of his column, which was recently distributed by the Associated Baptist Press.
Other scholars have written books and academic papers about Tolkien's “Hobbit” as well as his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Perhaps some expect “The Hobbit” to be as chock full of religious themes as some think of the “Rings” trilogy.
However, Janet Brennan Croft, an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma Libraries, said Tolkien said he did not write any of those books as Christian allegories.
“He preferred applicability — leaving the reader free to discover the things in the story that applied to his or own experiences,” Croft said.
Croft said Tolkien did say that “The Lord of the Rings” was a “fundamentally Christian work” with obvious Christian echoes in it, but she said there is not as much of this in “The Hobbit.”
Croft said while Bilbo's story may not have the spiritual or religious depth of the “Rings” trilogy, it “isn't totally fluff, either.”
She said the reader witnesses Bilbo mature and grow form a somewhat shallow self-centered and childish hobbit into a hero who cares enough for his friends to risk his life for them. Croft said Bilbo finds new depths inside of himself, discovers his true capabilities and learns to trust his luck — “or you might say, trust in Providence.”
Croft said she thinks one of the major themes that is evident throughout the book is the danger of greed, the dragon sickness. She said Bilbo almost falls under the spell, “but he learns that treasure is only valuable if you can let it go, and that true generosity, both with treasure and of the spirit, is a great gift.”
Devin Brown, author of the new book “The Christian World of The Hobbit (Abingon Press),” shared Croft's view that “The Hobbit” does not have as much religious depth as the “Rings” books.
Brown said readers still will find many Christian principles in the book that are just as true in the real world as they are the fantasy world of “The Hobbit.”
Brown said he found that the world “luck or “luckily” appears numerous times in the book. He said a Christian would say that what is called luck in “The Hobbit” could show that “something like Providence is looking out for Bilbo.”
Brown said in addition to the Providence theme, the theme of purpose also runs throughout the book.
“Bilbo clearly has a purpose. It's obvious that he was meant to help the world in some way.”
Brown said he is looking forward to seeing the Peter Jackson film to see how the director brings Bilbo's story to life.
“My favorite part about the movie is that it will send a whole new group of folks to the book. People who have never heard of the book will pick it up and people who have read it will read it again.”