by Charlie W. Starr
What Devin Brown does best in his new book, The Christian World of The Hobbit (Abingdon Press, 2012), is give his readers access. There is a subtly to Tolkien’s Middle-earth tales which makes them an enigma from the beginning. Brown offers several keys to The Hobbit’s mysteries, keys which open doors and give us entry into Tolkien’s hidden world, a world which is unabashedly Christian at its deepest foundations.
The Hobbit is not an allegory of Christian truth, but a vision of the world. Christian themes nevertheless flow beneath Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and Brown focuses on three of them: providence, purpose and morality.
As in the books of Ruth and Esther, a divine hand is not overtly present in Middle-earth, yet Bilbo’s journey is filled with a strange luck, a providence which “seems to help Bilbo when he needs help but not always when he wants it” (Brown 52). A mysterious power works behind all things in The Hobbit, echoing the mysterious ways in which God works in the world.
The theme of purpose appears in the connections between Bilbo’s call to a treasure hunt and the dark lord Sauron’s return to Middle-earth. Gandalf is pressed by an urge he does not understand to send Bilbo with the company of dwarves on their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Later, in The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf comes to understand that the success of the quest in The Hobbit (which was only possible because of Bilbo’s actions) along with Bilbo’s finding of the ring of power and then passing it on to Frodo (in LOTR), were absolutely necessary for the final defeat of Sauron.
The Hobbit is, furthermore, a book about difficult moral choices, whether it is Bilbo’s choice to spare Gollum’s life or Thorin’s choice to do his best to keep all the dragon gold for himself. In all of these choices, Tolkien presents a world in which right and wrong are clearly defined. One of Brown’s most insightful sub-chapters reveals how Tolkien valued a life of the “Sacramental Ordinary” (144). It is an attitude which values the ordinary things of life as extraordinary gifts. Part of The Hobbit’s excellence is in showing us the magic of life on God’s earth. Brown concludes that “a reverence, celebration, and love of the everyday is an essential part of Tolkien’s moral vision” (149).
The chief good in The Christian World of The Hobbit is its success in providing access to Tolkien’s most important ideas. If “brevity is the soul of wit,” Devin Brown may be the first to capture the soul of Tolkien’s Hobbit. His succinct, accessible writing carries us through the lengthy tomes of Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the Christian vision which lies at its very core.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr is a Professor of English and Humanities and Chair of the Humanities Program at Kentucky Christian University. He is the author five books, most recently, Light: C. S. Lewis’s First and Final Short Story (Winged Lion, 2012).
Devin Brown is a frequent contributor to CSLewis.com and a Lewis scholar as well. Read more.
by Charlie W. Starr