Having successfully captured J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in three highly acclaimed films; Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth in the famous predecessor to the LOTR: The Hobbit. Jackson once again works his magic transforming the Tolkien children’s story into an epic adventure filmed in three parts. The following insights are based solely on the first film “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.
Jackson opens the movie with a “back-story” to set the stage for the entire trilogy. The story begins with the dwarves in the kingdom ‘under the mountain’ Erebor in days gone by. The dwarves are workers of beauty and mine the riches of their mountain kingdom becoming very wealthy and prosperous until the discovery of the Arkenstone; the most precious gemstone, the very heart of the mountain. King Tror takes the stone as a symbol of his divine right to rule and places the stone above his head like a glorious crown while demanding homage from dwarves, humans, and elves. The love of gold that prompts this action now becomes a sickness of the mind and as the narrator states “where sickness thrives bad things happen”. Darkness descends and evil comes in the form of a mighty dragon who pillages the kingdom forcing the dwarves into exile. The once mighty are brought low and forced to labor in the villages their king once demanded homage from.
This is the biblical theme of idolatry, the essence of which is setting oneself above the divine which always brings judgment in the form of exile and leaves the kingdom in the possession of a mighty dragon.
There is a young prince Thror’s grandson Thorin who leads his people in exile but does not settle into the peaceful life many of them adopt. He has one thing on his heart: to recapture the mountain and re-establish the kingdom. Gathering only twelve who are loyal, honorable, and “willing of heart” he sets out on the quest to return to Erebor. This is one of the main themes of the Hobbit; the return of the legitimate king and heir who will bring his people home from exile while destroying the dragon who has turned Erebor into the “Lonely Mountain” of desolation.
This band of brothers is hardly enough to accomplish the task by force, another plan is necessary. Thorin’s father Thrain entrusted a secret map and key to Gandalf the Grey, a wizard of some renown. Believing that stealth by a hidden door may be the answer to retaking the mountain, Gandalf selects a very reluctant hobbit to be the company’s “burglar”. His name is Bilbo Baggins of the Shire.
This theme of exile and return of the king runs through both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Tolkien a devout Catholic considered the Rings a very Catholic/Christian story and no doubt his theology is found in The Hobbit as well. Twelve is the number of the people of God in both the Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament the twelve apostles accompany the legitimate heir and King on his own journey to take the Mountain of God…Zion, not by might nor by force but by a hidden door no one knew existed; the way of sacrifice. The prophets of old had seen and written of this (Isaiah 53 for e.g.) but no one knew exactly how to interpret these writings until the lunar events of Passover and Easter shined a whole new light on them.
Thorin the king and heir; Gandalf the prophet with map and key; and Bilbo the sacrificial servant who lays down his life to help the dwarves return home and defeat the dragon, represent the three “offices” of Jesus Christ. He is the one true King, Prophet and Priest who brings the people of God out of exile, back to the mountain of God and establishes a Kingdom that will never end.
Bilbo and The Hero’s Journey
The hero of The Hobbit is not surprisingly Thorin Oakenshield, or the other dwarves, or even Gandalf the Wizard. No, the hero of The Hobbit is the diminutive character from whom the story gets its title; the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. His story is one of exile and return too; it is a true Hero’s Journey if ever there was one.1
The movie opens with a middle age Bilbo living alone quite comfortably in his family home Bag End. He is so comfortable that when invited by Gandalf to go on an adventure he absolutely refuses. Nonplused the wizard marks Bilbo’s front door signifying to the dwarves this is the home of their “burglar”.
These opening scenes are powerful and poignant. You see and hear the dwarves deep desire for their lost home far over the Misty Mountains. They have been wandering exiles and are about to undertake a dangerous journey and risk their lives all for the sake of home. Bilbo on the other hand is lost and alone in his quite comfortable home. He has lost the “Tookish” part of himself; the part that loved adventure. He has a different kind of “homesickness” and Gandalf, like a wise physician recognizes what Bilbo needs….. “This will be good for you” he tells the hobbit.
The fussy, frumpy, lonely Hobbit steps out of The Shire and onto The Road and begins the journey that will transform his life. In this first film he is tested by trolls, orcs, goblins, dwarves, elves and a wizard. He descends into the inmost cave of a great ordeal and finds the courage to spare the life of a creature called Gollum, which has far reaching consequences and demonstrates what Gandalf has always believed: the small acts of kindness of ordinary folk keep darkness at bay.
“The word hero is Greek from a root that means ‘to protect and to serve’. A hero is someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others, like a shepherd who will sacrifice to protect his flock. At the root, the idea of hero is connected with self sacrifice”.2 In the concluding scenes of this first installment of the trilogy, the reluctant hobbit becomes the self-sacrificing hero.
Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of the Hobbit by Joseph Pearce is highly recommended for anyone interested in discovering the Christian Meaning in the Hobbit.
1. The Hero’s Journey or the Monomyth is a story found in all cultures at all times. Here are the twelve stages laid out by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.
Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal, Meeting with the Mentor, Crossing the Threshold, Tests .Allies…Enemies, Approach to Inmost Cave, Ordeal, Reward, The Road Back, Resurrection, Return With the Elixir
2. The Writer’s Journey pg. 29, by Christopher Vogler