The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, the third and final film in the series, releases in theaters December 17. RTB editor and fan of the book and film series Sandra Dimas stopped by my office to discuss some of the themes in The Hobbit.
The story begins with Bilbo Baggins leaving his cozy hobbit hole to join Gandalf and a band of dwarfs on their quest to reclaim vast treasures. Along the way, Bilbo experiences deep personal growth. Do you think this could relate to our faith and stepping out of our comfort zones?
It strikes me that both Lewis and Tolkien (I tend to think of them together) were very good at telling stories and then integrating them with theological, spiritual, and moral lessons along the way. So I can definitely see Tolkien picking that up. He was a great storyteller. In terms of Christian spirituality, I think there are a lot of things in life that compete for our attention—work, even our families, as important as they are. But when we come to know the Lord we begin a spiritual path. Like Bilbo’s path, the spiritual path has great benefits, but it also has challenges and difficulties. That’s how I see it connected to spirituality.
One of the main characters, Thorin Oakenshield, is consumed with greed and claiming what is his, even when faced with an impending war. What does this say of the corrosive power of greed, and how do we keep this in mind as we make our mental Christmas lists?
We live in a capitalist world in which people are weighted and measured by the kind of cars they drive and clothes they wear and home they own. And I think as a father and husband, there’s a side to me that wants to get my family something really nice to communicate that I care for them deeply and that I’ve listened to them and taken the hints. I’m aware of what they’re telling me. But on the other hand I think it’s very easy to be caught up in a merchandise culture and forget that the thing we truly care deeply about is our family. It’s not the things that they can give us; it’s them. We want their love and to enjoy that relationship. Greed is a big problem and I’m not surprised that Thorin’s greed would have application in ours lives.
After realizing his error, Thorin states, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” What can we learn from these poignant words?
That’s a wonderful sentiment. Ultimately we look for the joy of being with those we love. A lot of that can happen without a big price tag. It’s certainly easy to be caught up in the gift giving of the season. Though there’s nothing wrong with purchasing gifts for our loved ones, it’s true that the best things in life—love, humor, and the joy of being together—are free.
Speaking of the joy of being together, in The Battle of Fives Armies dwarfs, wood-elves, men, and the great eagles come together, not for joy, but to fight against their mutual enemy, but it takes some effort to band together. There’s a lot of peace and even sacrifice that need to take place. It brings up the question, how can we Christians avoid infighting and band together to fight for good?
The New Testament speaks of brothers and sisters in the Lord living together in peace, alluding to what’s going to happen in the new creation. The more I read about Lewis and Tolkien, the more I see how they were so deeply shaped by their WWI experience. That was a gruesome war—young men being in the trenches fighting and dying and being replaced by more young men. It seems like Lewis and Tolkien in their own way were trying to come to grips with the brutality and sorrow of the war, to rise above it all and move ahead, to overcome all of that pain and live in peace. Those are very strong themes.
Overall, The Hobbit reminds us that even someone small and lowly like Bilbo can change the world. This theme reminds me of the shepherds at the nativity. They were lowly and insignificant, yet they were called to worship the Christ child and then, beyond that, change the world by proclaiming that the Messiah is born.
That’s a great point. I like it! During the nativity and the advent season, we of course celebrate the coming of the Lord. Yet when you think about the shepherds who probably had very little in terms of what they could give, it’s a powerful statement that they got to witness this extraordinary event. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, was this lowly handmaid and yet she’s involved in this incredible truth. I think in some ways that’s kind of what God does in our lives. He finds us, and most of us are pretty ordinary folk, we don’t have any claim to fame, but God works in our lives and develops our character and allows us to see what awaits us in the new creation. The 12 apostles were also pretty ordinary folk. We’re reminded to see what God does in the lives of people who are ordinary and not terribly famous but willing to leaving their hobbit holes, so to speak.
Tolkien was great at developing characters like Bilbo and Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings. Simple, lowly characters who left their lives of comfort and changed the world. That’s pretty powerful.
You’ve read more fiction than I have, but I have to say Tolkien sells so many books because he tells stories that hook people and they relate to these individuals in the story and probably they see themselves or others. That’s a powerful thing to do, to get the reader to relate to the story and maybe see yourself or see God in that.
Absolutely. Tolkien was phenomenal at communicating deeper spiritual truths in works of fiction. Would you like to offer any final thoughts on The Hobbit, and, more importantly, do you plan to see it?
Yeah, I’d like to see it. With Tolkien, he was able to draw on a lot of difficult situations to write some really beautiful stories—stories of hope, of purpose. His work informs us that God brings good things out of really bad situations. Christmastime is a great time to grow spiritually in anticipating the coming of the Lord and reflect on the common individuals who are part of the nativity story. We can think about peace, humility, the danger of the sins that just grab hold of us, and how the Lord comes to free us. Those are wonderful elements that people like Tolkien can use in their writings to change people’s lives, giving us hope, a sense of purpose, and challenging us to grow as their characters have grown.
For more on The Hobbit, see “Big Truths from The Hobbit.”