The much-anticipated movie The Hobbit opens on Friday
-- along with the release of a book that explores the spiritual
warfare that Bilbo Baggins and other characters undergo in J.R.R.
Tolkien's classic tale.
Even though they have abnormally big and hairy feet and pointy
ears, hobbits resemble humans more than we think.
Just in time for the release of film director Peter
Jackson's much-anticipated soon-to-be blockbuster The
Hobbit -- a movie that's sure to satisfy the hunger of
frenzied moviegoers in thousands of theaters across America -- Dr.
Joseph Pearce unveils his latest title, Bilbo's Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of
Because much of the deep Christian messages radiating through
author J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novels are often
overlooked by readers and lost on the big screen, Pearce sets out
to meticulously explore the spiritual warfare the main character
Bilbo Baggins and other characters undergo in the classic, The
Cutting through the chase
Packaged as a fanciful adventure with magic and mythical
creatures, the average person reading the novel or watching the
movie is likely to miss the true intent and spiritual dimension
behind The Hobbit. Intrigued by the mystery behind the
75-year-old novel, OneNewsNow asked British scholar Professor
Joseph Pearce what he believes The Hobbit's most powerful
underlying Christian theme is.
"The most powerful Christian theme is the effect of the dragon
sickness on various characters, including Bilbo, Gollum, Thorin,
the Master of Lake-town, and, of course, Smaug," Pearce told
OneNewsNow in an exclusive interview. "The dragon sickness serves
the same purpose in The Hobbit as the Ring serves in The
Lord of the Rings. It represents the addictive attraction of sin
and its destructive consequences, best summarized in an
understanding that the thing possessed possesses the possessor --
or, as the Gospel says, where our treasure is, there our heart will
be also (Matthew
Bilbo's journey, although fantastical, is portrayed as one we
should all not be too unfamiliar with.
"At the beginning of The Hobbit, Bilbo is too attached
to his possessions," Pearce asserts. "He is a creature of comfort
addicted to the creature comforts. Though he finds it difficult to
leave his home and possessions behind, his journey allows him to
discover the greater meaning and purpose of life. The
Hobbit illustrates the priceless truth that we only become
wise men when we realize that we are pilgrims with a purpose."
Along with the spiritual struggles, the main character gives us
a glance at the light at the end of the tunnel.
"Bilbo Baggins represents us all," the acclaimed biographer
proclaims. "He shows us how to grow in virtue and courage and
become who we are meant to be. It is the Christian journey of
self-sacrifice out of love for others, and abandonment to
providence and grace."
And to better understand the spiritual nature of the story, he
adds it's essential to know the faith of its creator -- J.R.R.
"Tolkien was a lifelong practicing Catholic who perceived
reality through the perspective of Christian realism -- i.e.
through an understanding that man is homo viator (a
pilgrim on his way toward God)," the author of 15 books explained.
"Man's life is a journey with a purpose. He must see his life as a
quest for heaven, which can only be attained by the embrace of
self-sacrifice and the willingness to lay down our lives for our
Drawing on Christ laying down His life for man, Tolkien wanted
to show readers through Bilbo how man is called out of his comfort
level, sin and indulgences to make bold sacrifices and become more
"Only by embarking on this pilgrimage through the perilous realm
of life can we grow in wisdom and grace, attaining the heroic
virtue of the saint," Pearce related, in order to divulge the core
of Tolkien's faith and the heart behind The Hobbit and the
subsequent trilogy. "In this way, Bilbo's and Frodo's journeys can
be seen as synonymous with the life journey of all of us. The
hobbits are Everyman figures."
But what exactly was it that drove Tolkien to write The
Hobbit and its sequels?
"In the specific mundane sense, he began writing The
Hobbit for the delectation of his own children, and he began
writing The Lord of the Rings [triology] as a sequel, at the
request of his publisher," informed Pearce, writer in residence and
visiting fellow at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. "In a
deeper sense, Tolkien saw stories as a reflection of the truth,
which held up a mirror to man, showing man in a new and insightful
light. In this understanding of the power of story to reveal the
truth, he was following the primal example of Jesus Christ who
taught many of his most important lessons in the form of
Re-casting the line-up
With the spiritual weight behind the novels, does Tolkien
overtly represent the Godhead or other biblical characters in
"Tolkien does not write formal or crude allegories," contends
Pearce. "There are no personified abstractions in his stories of
Middle-earth. In a much more subtle way, several characters remind
us of Christ or the Christian in aspects of their characterization
or in their actions. There are no obvious Christ-figures in The
Hobbit, though in The Lord of the Rings Gandalf (in his
'death,' 'resurrection' and 'transfiguration'), Aragorn (in his
taking of the Paths of the Dead, his healing powers and his
kingship), and Frodo (as the 'cross' bearer who goes through
death/Mordor to Mount Doom/Golgotha) are all partial figures of
Christ. Although there are no obvious Christ figures in The
Hobbit, Bilbo is a very powerful Everyman figure, representing
the Christian on his pilgrimage through life."
Pearce notes that there are some other key spiritual
distinctions that should be made when analyzing the characters.
"Gandalf is not such an obvious Christ-figure in The
Hobbit as he is in The Lord of the Rings," Pearce points out.
"He is more like a father-figure. There are only hints of the
gravitas that he will possess in the later epic. Thorin signifies
one who is afflicted by the dragon sickness, as are the Master of
Lake-town and the Sackville-Bagginses at the story's end. Smaug, of
course, like all dragons, is demonic."
The author of Bilbo's Journey also drew on the
dichotomy between the wizards Gandalf and Saruman.
"The most important difference is signified by the symbolic
meaning of the color white," Pearce stresses. "Since evil, in the
Christian and Augustinian understanding of the word, is defined as
the absence of the Good -- i.e. a privation having no intrinsic
reality of its own -- it is best signified by black, which is the
absence of all light. White, on the other hand, is all the colors
of the spectrum in unified presence, thereby signifying the power
of the Good. Saruman loses his desire to be white, i.e. good, and
desires to be known instead as Saruman of Many Colors, ignoring
Gandalf's warning that he who breaks a thing (in this case the
unity of white light) has departed from the path of wisdom."
The dark wizard is said to represent the exact worldview that is
taught in schools and embraced by today's society ─ moral
relativism or secular humanism.
"Saruman's 'many colors' signify relativism, a belief that there
is no unified goodness and that the unity of objective truth can be
broken and fragmented into a multitude of differing opinions," the
native-born English author contends. "In reality, such breaking of
the unity of goodness does not yield a rainbow but only darkness.
Gandalf, in following the path of unadulterated goodness, inherits
the mantle of Gandalf the White, whilst Saruman shrivels and is
'gollumized' into the pathetically dark figure of
And everyone's favorite schizophrenic ─ rather, demon-tormented
"Smeagol's metamorphosis into Gollum signifies the effect that
sin has on the soul," claims Pearce. "The Ring, symbolic of sin,
leads to the decay of the human soul, transforming the sinner into
a pale and pathetic shadow of the person whom they were made to be
and meant to be. When we put the Ring on, when we put sin on, we
enter Satan's or Sauron's world of shadows. If we do so often
enough we become slaves to our sin, desiring our sin more than
According to Pearce, this made for the perfect segue into the
spiritual dynamics between Bilbo and Smaug.
"At the beginning of The Hobbit Bilbo is suffering from
the dragon sickness, which is to say that he is addicted to the
possessions that he has gathered around him in his home," Pearce
divulged. "By the end of the story he has recovered from the dragon
sickness and is able to enjoy his possessions in a detached way. He
possesses them; they no longer possess him. In this sense, we can
say that Bilbo is Smaug-like at the beginning of the story and
Christ-like at the end."
Are there any notable similarities or distinctions to be made
between John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress and The
"The obvious parallel is that Bilbo, like Christian, is an
Everyman figure whose journey is representative of the journey of
the Christian through life," responded Pearce. "The important
difference is that The Hobbit is a story and not a formal
allegory. It contains no personified abstractions and is,
therefore, more subtle and also, in my judgment, a greater work of
And out of the Trilogy and The Hobbit, which one does
Pearce believe is the people's favorite?
"The Lord of the Rings is indubitably the greater work," the
Tolkien scholar insisted. "It is more popular, as can be gauged by
the fact that The Lord of the Rings has sold in greater quantities
than The Hobbit in the years since they were each first
From the sanctuary to the cinema
With the religious themes and epic battle between good and evil,
what makes Tolkien's work so alluring, even to a secular crowd?
"If I speak at a college about unlocking the Gospel, 15 people
will show up, but if I speak about unlocking The Lord of the Rings,
300 show up," Pearce said. "People put their guard up against
Christianity, but these books get beyond that. Everyone who reads
them will be more disposed to Christianity."
The Hobbit introduces unexplained phenomena without
spelling out the spiritual significance, disarming many who have an
aversion to all things religious.
"Another important dimension of The Hobbit, which I
discuss at length in my book, is the use of the word 'luck' as a
euphemism for Providence and the spiritually dynamic relationship
between free will and the consequences of our actions," said
Pearce. "[P]rovidence and grace are presented as luck, but at the
end of Bilbo's quest, Gandalf asks him, 'You don't really suppose,
do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere
But does Peter Jackson capture Tolkien's spiritual journey in
"I have not yet seen the new movie version of The
Hobbit, but I suspect that the spiritual dimension will be
largely lacking," reasoned Pearce. "Although Jackson's movie
version of The Lord of the Rings was wonderful to watch and
reflected much of Tolkien's original story, it would still be fair
to say that much of the deeper spiritual meaning was not conveyed.
It's as though a shadow had fallen over the brightness of Tolkien's
work and the virtue that glows forth from it."
Even though the big screen version of The Hobbit is
likely to lack the spiritual elements found in the book ─ similar
to its predecessors ─ Pearce maintains that the gravity of the
journey and its life-changing effects cannot be overlooked ─
especially after reading his analysis.
"Overcoming vices and evil, or 'dragons,' in The Hobbit
is not just the result of outward actions, but the inner changes
that have occurred," argues Pearce. "Bilbo's Journey gives
readers the opportunity not just to better enjoy the movie, but
also to apply its lessons to their lives as Christians."
Michael Haverluck is a freelance journalist based in
This column is printed with permission. Opinions expressed in 'Perspectives' columns published by OneNewsNow.com are the sole responsibility of the article's author(s), or of the person(s) or organization(s) quoted therein, and do not necessarily represent those of the staff or management of, or advertisers who support the American Family News Network, OneNewsNow.com, our parent organization or its other affiliates.