In Every Christian, There’s a Hobbit

He lives alone and likes it that way.  He enjoys cooking elaborate meals for himself from the the food in his well-stocked pantry.  Nothing gives him more happiness than a roaring fire in his cozy den, a good book to read and a pipe full of his favorite tobacco.  He entertains rarely but when he does, he’s an excellent and thoughtful host to his friends and family.  He leads a very quiet and a very ordinary life.  He was sure that’s how his life would always be.  But he was wrong.  He was about to be called to play a role in a great story — one that would involve risking his life for his friends and fighting against all odds for the triumph of good over evil.
Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, Hobbiton, The Shire, is very much like you and me.  Content, happy and in so many ways unaware of his gifts and his calling.  He’s middle-aged, prosperous, and content.  But his creator, J.R.R. Tolkien, has made him for greater things.  Our creator has made us for greater things, too.  He calls us to enter into a life with Him and to leave the things and the ways of our comfortable lives behind us.  Like Bilbo, our adventure is one that challenges us to abandon what we’ve known and to enter into a new life, for His purpose.  There’s a lot of researched scholarship which is devoted to understanding Tolkien’s Catholic imagining of Middle Earth and all the creatures that fill it.  But literary criticism isn’t my strength.  Like Bilbo, I’m just your average, home-loving hobbit — minus the hairy feet.  Like Bilbo, though I’ve been called to a great journey that is still unfolding and I think, in many ways, his story is my story, too.  And maybe it’s yours as well.
Bilbo found his calling when he left his cozy hobbit-hole and stepped out into the wide world with his band of friends.  But merely leaving the Shire and its comforts behind him didn’t transfigure Bilbo into his truest self.  It was the journey, with all its discomforts and dangers that revealed to him his purpose.  And this revelation wasn’t instantaneous and it didn’t immediately transform him from hobbit to hero.  He had setbacks and failings — many of them — and often longed for nothing else but the comfort and larder of his den back home.  But Bilbo persevered.  He kept going.  He drew strength from his circle of friends, in all their gifts and weaknesses.  He learned what he could do and what he needed help with.  And Bilbo wasn’t afraid to ask for help.  He relied on dwarves and elves and men and eagles in equal measure.  And he relied on Gandalf, always there in a pinch to keep him on the road.  The road itself is a main character in Tolkien’s story. He shows us how our lives are most-fully revealed when we step outside our comfort zones and follow a greater purpose.
We learn from Bilbo that there is good that is worth fighting for, no matter how evil the world around us may seem at times. We see the allure of evil and how it can both entice and enslave us.  Even his friends the dwarves became victims of their own greed for the dragon’s spoils.  Possessing all that gold and silver becomes the end in itself for them.  They fight and bicker and turn away from Bilbo.  This is how evil can divide us one from the other, by its worldly attractiveness and temporary beauty, or prestige or power..  It would be easy to see Bilbo as a kind of “everyman saint” and Gandalf as the Christ-figure, leading him to redemption.  I’ll stop short of that here.  What I will suggest is that in a culture of Twilight and The Hunger Games, Tolkien’s writings can offer your ‘tweens (and yourself) an imaginative and exciting world rich in Christian values and symbolism.  They’ll see friends working and sacrificing together for a common good.  They’ll find acts of charity and valor and moral courage.  In Tolkien’s world there is objective truth and absolute evil with no moral relativism.  Suffering is never wanton or useless, but is always embraced by heroes as a way of working out their salvation which, in turn, brings about a right ordering of their larger world.  In Bilbo, we can see ourselves on our own Christian journey, only better.  And with hairy feet.
“There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.”
                                             —Gandalf describing Bilbo, The Hobbit, Chapter 1


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