The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Finding The Spiritual In Tolkien’s Work

by Yo Snyder

J.R.R. Tolkien was personally very averse to allegory. He never
intended his stories to be Aesopian fables with morals and lessons for
people to take away; they were just stories intended to entertain.
However, as any writer must eventually become resigned to, people will
inevitably read things into the text; things either intended or not. And
regardless of his intent, there are unavoidable themes that speak to
readers and viewers on deeper, even spiritual levels.

One of the
things Richard Armitage (who plays Thorin Oakshield, leader of the dwarf
company) noted from his time in Tolkien’s world was how Tolkien’s
Christianity permeated everything.  “One of the things I find when I
really look at that book is I can get a sense of Tolkien’s Catholicism,
his kind of Christianity, and not necessarily in a denominational way,
but in terms of his chivalric view of the world, his nobility which is
expressed through kindness and mercy, I think that pervades all of his
writings and it’s in almost all of his characters, and I find that

In fact, that theme of the small kindnesses, the
small acts of love, the little, everyday moments of good we see and can
participate in being the very things that can hold great evil and
darkness at bay is one of the key elements of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Gandalf himself says as much when asked why he brought a hobbit along.
He talks about how it’s those small acts of kindness, everyday acts of
love that truly defeat evil; not just the grandiose heroic deeds that
always live on in legend. As Sir Ian McKellen stated, “It’s the little
guy that we need, and who maybe expendable.” There probably isn’t a
greater example of that than Jesus Christ dying on a cross. He wasn’t a
king, he wasn’t a rich, famous, powerful person. He had no notoriety
whatsoever. He was one of those “little guys” that most people probably
would never take note of. However, he had a profound impact on this
world. That was partly due to the every day acts of love and kindness
that he showed everywhere he went, and it was also due to the fact that
he was expendable. Jesus, God’s son, was expendable. He had to be in
order to defeat sin and evil completely, which is what he did when he
died on a cross, in our place no less, and rose from the dead. Most
importantly, that was all his choice.

Going on a journey like
that is never an easy one to undertake, or any hero big or small.
Bilbo’s own journey is one fraught with danger and peril, and right from
the beginning he’s told there’s a chance that he might not come back.
However, Martin Freeman (who plays the younger Bilbo in the film) says
that’s an important thing for the character to realize. “I think that’s a
pivotal thing for Bilbo and audience to realize, that he still chooses
to go on this journey after having that very honest appraisal [that he
might not come back] by the man who’s going to take him [Gandalf]. ‘If
you do come back, you also may not come back the same,’ which is also a
very scary prospect for most people, and certainly most hobbits. But, he
still chooses to go. I think that’s quite touching.” 

certainly never easy to embrace change, especially change that might
change us. The unexpected journey of Biblo Baggins is so much like the
unexpected journeys we all experience in life. We all have those moments
where a choice looms before us; where that choice may lead and what
perils it may entail, we may not know. But what lies at the end is what
makes the journey worthwhile. That’s probably why Jesus also often
talked about paths and roads and being careful about choosing which ones
we go down. The choice to follow the path of Christ is not easy one,
it’s a journey filled with challenges and perils, and it’s most
certainly one from which we won’t return the same as we were before we
began down it, but it’s one that is well worth the trip. In fact, it’s
the only path that will lead us to what our souls truly desire and
ultimately were made for.

Now, Tolkien probably wouldn’t
appreciate all the discussion and dissection of his stories to “unearth”
these themes and thoughts, but it’s hard not to. The material is so
rich for these types of discussions, even the actors cast to play the
characters of the book in a film adaption of it found it unavoidable to
consider such things. Perhaps the greatest testament to how well Peter
Jackson has done in adapting The Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit
is how he’s been able to keep this type of sub-text in the films; that
these themes and suggestions and thoughts and ideas are still there on
the big screen for all to see and ponder. Intentional or not, Tolkien
(and by extension Peter Jackson and all the cast and crew of these
films) have given us some rich material that for whatever reason
resonates with our souls and makes it hard not to ponder the issues of
life and eternity.