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'The Christian World of The Hobbit' puts Tolkien's Christianity on subtle display

By Mike Whitmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 17 2012 2:55 p.m. MST

"THE CHRISTIAN WORLD OF THE HOBBIT," by Devin Brown, Abingdon Press, $14.99, 208 pages (nf)

December 2012 will begin the introduction of three new movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy adventure "The Hobbit." Undoubtedly, there will be numerous books written and designed to give insight into Tolkien’s message in the story of Bilbo Baggins and his band of dwarves. One that should not be ignored is “The Christian World of The Hobbit” by professor Devin Brown.

It is no secret that Tolkien was a devout Christian and included many themes of Christianity in his most popular works. But Tolkien often indicated that much of the conjecture about overt Christian teachings was overblown and inaccurate. His stories are filled with the teachings of Christianity but, in many cases, the essence of the doctrine is not something that jumps out at readers. Rather, he lets the story teach the principle and allows the heart to absorb the truth.

Using letters and other communications between Tolkien and his contemporaries, Brown is able to dig deeper into the enthralling story of Bilbo Baggins. He identifies three subtle Christian themes that lie at the foundation of "The Hobbit": the influence of providence, purpose in life and morality in decision-making.

An example of one idea that Brown identifies is how Bilbo is often benefited by “lucky” experiences that happen at just the right time and/or place. These simple acts of divine providence run throughout the story and eventually lead to success on the adventure and great change in the lives of the main characters. There is no direct mention of a godly influence, but the theme is always there and indicates someone is watching out for Bilbo in his encounters.

Brown is uniquely qualified to explore the Christian nature of Tolkien’s work since he has also written a series of books examining a similar theme in the "Chronicles of Narnia" series by C.S. Lewis. While Tolkien’s books are much less obvious in their Christian nature, working with Lewis’s books provides the experience necessary to identify the religious tones of "The Hobbit."

"The Christian World of The Hobbit" is a well-written book and an excellent read. It will be a great resource for those picking up "The Hobbit" for the first time, rereading the book once again or preparing to view the new movies as they come out. The book has no offensive material and is appropriate for all ages.

Mike Whitmer lives in West Valley City and reads more fantasy than he should. He also loves science-fiction, adventure and religious works. His email is grundelwalken@gmail.com or he blogs at mtwhitmer.blogspot.com.

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