Bilbo Baggin’s story
Ronald’s little book, the one he wrote primarily for his own children in England, has staying power. Over 70 Christmas celebrations have come and gone since The Hobbit was originally published, and it is still immensely popular.
With Peter Jackson’s recent release of the first part of this book as a major motion picture, now even more people, young and old, will likely be drawn to it.
Have you ever wondered why this particular story is so appealing to so many people? Having recently read the book and watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this question lingers in my mind.
This story, this fantastic tale filled with wonder and adventure, sets the stage for J.R.R. Tolkien’s equally famous trilogy The Lord of the Rings. To crack open any of these books is to drop into an alternative universe filled with mysterious places like Middle Earth, Rivendell, Mirkwood Forest and many unusual creatures.
After meeting the dwarf king, Thorin Oakenshield, together with Gandalf the good wizard, Beorn the bear-man, Gollum, Elrond, and the Elvenking Thranduil it is difficult to return to “ordinary life” without a greater sense of wonder and a growing desire for more adventure.
Bilbo Baggins, the main character in The Hobbit, is in no need of an introduction by now. It is well-known that Bilbo was a small, comfort loving creature (and a bit of a self-absorbed snob) who had no desire to set out on any unexpected or dangerous journeys – no desire at all. But then Gandalf shows up, a dozen or so dwarves drop in uninvited, and soon Bilbo finds himself signed up to help the dwarves reclaim their mountain home and recover their lost treasure.
Bilbo is in for quite an adventure. Even at the beginning, it becomes clear that this would be a perilous quest and not at all an easy task.
All that was required was to travel, over many months, through miles of wilderness and rocky terrain filled with hundreds of hideous creatures like gobins, trolls, wargs, orcs, and giant spiders, not to mention dark magic spells. No problem. And if they ever made it to The Lonely Mountain alive (which was highly unlikely) it would then be necessary to find a way to defeat the fearsome dragon, Smaug the Magnificent, on his own turf.
It gets worse. Dangerous internal enemies would need to be conquered and subdued at the same time. The stubborn nature and blatant greed of the dwarf king poses a serious problem to the preservation of peace in Middle Earth. As well, fear in Bilbo’s heart would need to be replaced with courage. And the power of the Dark Lord, Sauron, was not to be underestimated. Many creatures were at risk of bending and twisting their will to follow his cruel desires.
Hope is hard to come by in this story. Impending doom lingers throughout this tale. At every turn, it appears that Bilbo’s small group of friends will be defeated and quickly destroyed.
Without giving too much away, it becomes abundantly clear that one hobbit and thirteen dwarves cannot make it there and back again even with the aid of one wonderful wizard. Luck, fate, or more accurately, providence, is what makes the biggest difference in the outcome of their spectacular adventure.
So getting back to our question: Could it be that this story is so compelling in part because so many people can relate to Bilbo Baggins?
We feel small and inclined to be content with personal comfort; and yet, we wake up one morning in the middle of a unpleasent adventure we did not choose; we sense that the forces against us are overwhelming; and still, we struggle to rise to the occasion and face the future with courage rather than fear.
Could it be that many of us need to be encouraged to maintain a sense of hope in what appears to be a hopeless situation?
Ronald Tolkien lost both of his parents early on in life and most of his friends. Disease and the First World War brought them all to an untimely end. But his story didn’t end with discouragement and defeat; it didn’t have to end that way.
And as another Christmas season approaches, may I suggest that neither does yours or mine.
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