When examining popular literary works, there’s often a fascinating story surrounding the author and his or her intended purpose in crafting the messaging within a book. From religious sentiments to embedded ideals about the human condition, fiction is often used to make grand and pertinent statements about mankind. Case in point: J.R.R. Tolkien and his book, “The Hobbit.”
In “The Christian World of the Hobbit,” a new literary analysis of the popular writer, author Devin Brown examines the intense religious nature of Tolkien’s written works. In a recent interview with CBN.com, Brown provided some fascinating tidbits of information. Among them, a fact that many Tolkien fans might not be aware of: “The Hobbit” author was responsible for bringing C.S. Lewis to the Christian faith.
Here’s what Brown had to say about Tolkien’s religious views and his assistance in helping Lewis find Christ:
[Tolkien] was Roman Catholic. His mom converted; she had been an Anglican. His dad died. So, he went with her in the Catholic faith and was very devout, very pious. That said, when he helped bring Lewis to Christianity—he didn’t bring him to Catholicism, he brought him to Christianity. Certainly, his commitment to Christ was first and his denomination second. But, yeah, he was very pious, went to church not just every Sunday, but often every day. He was one of those kind of people, that I don’t know that very many of them exist anymore.
And just as Lewis was brought to faith by Tolkien, it was Tolkien who owes the success of his books to Lewis. In fact, “The Hobbit” author quit twice while working on “The Lord of the Rings” book project (a follow-up to “The Hobbit”), with Lewis begging him to continue.
“You’re going to leave me hanging here? You’ve got to finish it,” Lewis essentially told Tolkien. “This is going to be your great work.”
And complete it he did. Considering the intricate nature of Tolkien’s faith and his deeply held connection to Christ, naturally, his writings are reflective of that devotion. Brown contends that, while Tolkien didn’t initially write his books to be overtly Christian, over the long process of edits and amendments, the literary works did, indeed, end up having faith-based imagery infused within them.
Brown explains, though, that critics sometimes attempt to poke holes in the theory that “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” are Christian in nature, as the messages are less-than-overt. He explains:
People say, “Look, God’s not mentioned in The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. There’s no churches, no priest, no Bible. There’s no Jesus. How can you say it’s Christian?” And I said, “Here’s the deal. You can’t see that it’s Christian because you live in the Christian world where there is right and wrong and there is truth. I don’t know if you know any friends who don’t believe that there’s right or wrong and don’t believe there’s such a thing as truth. That’s the non-Christian world.” I mean, that’s the world without God.
In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, there is a right or wrong. There is a goodness. There’s a providence.
He goes on to contend that Tolkien uses fiction in a fascinating way. Rather than merely entertaining readers, he also seeks to hold a mirror up to humanity and to address the issues that impact individuals in the real world. And by setting the stage in a non-existent land (i.e. Middle-earth), the argument — one that even Lewis posed when reviewing some of the works — is that self-reflection is made a bit easier.
Infusing Middle-earth with right and wrong and with other related themes, Brown agrees that Tolkein’s methodology actually does make it easier to connect with the ideals and plights in a very real way.
“Where, somehow because they’re not in our world, we see them more clearly, we feel them more powerfully, and we, oddly enough, identify with them,” he told CBN. “Bilbo and Frodo are not humans. They’re hobbits. We’re humans, not hobbits; but what we aren’t, we’re all the same.”
As for “The Hobbit’s” plot and religious themes, Brown connected the dots during his CBN interview:
Everyone who’s seen The Lord of the Rings, knows that Bilbo was the one who found the Ring, originally from Gollum. In Lord of the Rings,he’s writing the story of his adventure, “There and Back Again”. He’s this guy who’s writing the red book. But The Hobbit is his story by himself. Frodo isn’t around, he hasn’t been born yet; he hasn’t entered the scene. And so, Gandalf shows up, looking for someone who will go on an adventure with these dwarves; and of course, Gandalf is this emissary. Someone has sent him, we don’t know who, but somebody big. Someone who loves Middle-earth and cares for Middle-earth, and that’s why he’s been sent. Clearly these dwarves are going to need somebody’s assistance.
I love the Christian theme, “Not by power, nor by might.” So, Bilbo’s not very powerful, not very mighty, and he’s going to help make this mission accomplishment. Here’s the Christian thing I think about it, is the task that God has called us to, they’re called to help other people, and in helping other people, we help ourselves. Someone asked somebody a question, “Does the Christian hero go out to save the world or to save himself?” The answer is both. In saving the world and dying to save the world, he saves himself.
Believers who are unfamiliar with the books and movies might be surprised to find that the faith-based themes are deeply-rooted under the surface. It’s ironic, too, considering that Lewis so overtly discussed his religious views in his writings. Tolkien, in contrast, seemingly prefers a more under-the-rader handling of his theological perspective, as noted by Brown.
In an interview with Alabama.com, English professor Jane Chance of Rice University corroborated this notion, noting that Christian beliefs do, indeed, exist just beneath the surface.
“If you go to see ‘The Hobbit’ with a sense of Christianity in mind, you’re going to see morality and some underlying spirituality that we might perceive as being Christian,” she explained. ”Both ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the
Rings’ are deeply religious in their subtext. You’re not going to find that on the surface.”
In “The Lord of the Rings,” too, Chance said that Christian themes were prevalent.
“Aragorn represents a savior figure in a lot of ways,” she told Alabama.com. “He’s a hero but he’s also a Christ figure in many ways, bringing harmony to Middle Earth.”