Millions of fans flocked to the first installment of Peter Jackson’s movie of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel, The Hobbit. Tolkien’s tale of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit who reluctantly sets out on an epic quest from his comfortable home in the shire, has sold millions of books since it was first published in 1937. Bilbo’s journey into unknown territories leads him into mighty struggles with evil and on a search for purpose in life. Just in time for the movie, a number of books explore the relationship between Christianity and Tolkien’s masterpiece.
For Hobbit fans seeking to uncover biblical principles nestled in the novel, Ed Strauss, in A Hobbit Devotional (Barbour, Sept.), provides 60 devotional readings that reveal its themes of hope, faith, courage, and selfless love. Each short meditation opens with a quote from the book, describes the situation in which Bilbo finds himself, and relates Bilbo’s feelings and actions to what contemporary individuals face while weaving biblical material into reflections. For example, in Strauss’ chapter on wizards and magic, he compares Gandalf, who mysteriously appears at Bilbo’s side in dire straits, to the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament.
When Asbury University English professor Devin Brown set out to write The Christian World of the Hobbit (Abingdon, Oct.) just over 13 months ago, he wasn’t trying to make explicit connections between The Hobbit and Christianity. “If people see the title of my book, they’re skeptical, and they should be,” Brown tells PW. “Tolkien once wrote in a letter that ‘the fact that I’m a Christian can only be deduced from my story’,” says Brown; it is never made explicit. Brown takes the reader into Bilbo’s world and illustrates that Bilbo has been chosen in a way that’s good for him and good for others. According to Brown, The Hobbit “reminds us why we’re here, who we are, and why we are important.”
Tolkien wrote The Hobbit when the world was on the brink of another world war, and some critics interpreted it as an allegory of the struggle between the evil of Hitler’s regime and the good of the Allies. In the revised and expanded edition of his Following Gandalf, A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth (Brazos, Sept.), Matthew Dickerson refutes this reading as simplistic. Through his own close readings of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, Dickerson examines the lessons we can learn from hobbits and their vision of the Good Life, relating those lessons to our own lives. In this new edition, Dickerson has added material on torture, social justice, and the importance of the body as seen through the eyes of hobbits, with their beliefs in free will, the fact that choices matter, and that it is possible to live a morally heroic life.
In On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis (Moody, Oct.), Louis Markos includes The Hobbit and Tolkien’s other novels in the full-scale epic tradition of earlier Western adventure tales, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, exploring themes of virtue in the books. Markos, who teaches at Houston Baptist University, takes up a single message or moral in each chapter—the nature of goodness, the character of hope, justice, courage, love—that he believes readers of the novels have overlooked.
Tolkien expert Colin Duriez brings the man behind The Hobbit to life in his vivid new biography, J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend (Kregel/Lion, Oct.). Drawing on a wealth of new materials made available since Humphrey Carpenter’s authoritative Tolkien: A Biography (Ballantine, 1977), Duriez, who has appeared as a commentator on the DVDs of The Lord of the Rings, explores Tolkien’s difficult life—orphaned as a young child, he grew up in poverty and endured the horrors of World War I—as well as the more than fifty years Tolkien devoted to constructing Middle-Earth and its geography, language, and inhabitants.
The new Hobbit movie will send Tolkien lovers scurrying back to his charming and enduring tales of good and evil, hope and purpose. Perhaps this crop of books can help readers draw spiritual meaning as they accompany Bilbo on his bewildering, exciting, and enlightening journeys.