Thursday, December 20, 2012

Finding God in the Hobbit: A Book Review

Hobbits are everywhere these days, it seems. Due, in large part, to the recent release of part 1 of Peter Jackson’s portrayal of the novel The Hobbit on the big screen. I have yet to see it, but I was given the opportunity to review a book related to the subject and would like to share my thoughts here. Tyndale House Publishers has graciously provided me a complimentary copy of this book.

Finding God in the Hobbit, by Jim Ware takes the reader on a devotional journey through the pages of Tolkien’s classic novel. Ware has unique insight in the writings of Tolkien and it shows in the insights of this book. Each chapter reflects on a particular scene from The Hobbit and points out universal truths that we can all benefit from.

I found this book a surprisingly welcome companion during the season of Advent. I can think of no better companion than a Hobbit as I make my way to the stable at Bethlehem. Hobbits are indeed the chief characters of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They have always fascinated me with their earthy childlikeness, simplicity of perspective and way of life. Bilbo Baggins would find himself far more at home in the Bethlehem stable than he would in the glorious Inn, where places were reserved, I’m sure, for the wealthy and powerful of this world. This has helped me own my humanity, my own earthy brokenness, which helps prepare the way to receive Christ in new and deeper ways.

The great strength of Tolkien’s writings (and Ware, his disciple) is that he tells stories in such an imaginative way that reader participation involves not only entering the world of middle earth but learning to see reality itself in terms of story. All good stories, in my opinion, will help us live our own stories more faithfully and truly. Ware’s thoughts on The Hobbit are a great help here. He seems like-minded to Tolkien, which makes him particularly qualified to serve as a guide through his writings.

Too many Christian interpretations of Tolkien (and Lewis) are sentimental in their attempt to force an allegorical interpretation. Some try to see Jesus in every character and circumstance. Tolkien never intended this, and I’m grateful to Mr. Ware for pointing this out. Ware comments, “Tolkien understood, as many of his readers and critics did not, that it is one thing to concoct an allegory and quite another to reflect universal principles and eternal realities in a timeless tale. . . . Through the ruse of an entertaining and imaginative tale, Tolkien drew back the veil of familiarity and boredom that covered my school day existence and revealed the world to me in a new light, as a land of perilous beauty and wondrous delight, a place gloriously haunted by the Presence of a Person ‘who is never absent and never named.’” (165, 168)

Ware further develops this point by quoting Tolkien’s Letters, “. . . each of us is an allegory, embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life.” (165).

Overall Ware’s book is a great read and I highly recommend it! His work reminds me of the words of another blogger, David Mathis, who said, “Finding Jesus in The Hobbit doesn’t mean shoe-horning Gandalf or Bilbo or anyone else into some Christ mold, but following the story, truly tracking its twists, feeling its angst, and knowing that the “turn” — the Great Unexpected Rescue just in the nick of time, the place where our souls are most stirred and relieved and satisfied — is tapping into something deep in us, some way in which God spring-loaded us for the Great Story and the extent to which he went to reclaim us. (12/13/12 Blog titled,
“How To Watch ‘The Hobbit’”

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