Posts Tagged With: The Hobbit

Christopher Tolkien, Architect of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, 1924-2020

Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the person in charge of his father’s literary estate, passed away at the age of 95 on the 16th of January. After his father passed away in 1973, Christopher began a massive, decades-long project of publishing his father’s unfinished Middle-Earth histories:

In 1977, he collected and published The Silmarillion, a work that Tolkien had intended to publish, which explored the origins of Middle-earth and set up the conflict that he explored in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

In the years that followed, he continued to produce new volumes of Tolkien’s unpublished writings, releasing Unfinished Tales in 1980, the 12-volume History of Middle-earth between 1982 and 1996, and edited and completed a number of longer narratives and translations of epic poems, including The Children of Húrin (2007), The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (2009), The Fall of Arthur (2013), Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, (2014), Beren and Lúthien (2017), and The Fall of Gondolin (2018).

As Gandalf said,

…the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

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Freedom and the Future of Humanity

Here’s a pair of books on four men of the 20th Century that still speak to us today: Churchill and Orwell and A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War. Not one of them was a talking head or armchair expert. Each was a veteran of one or more of the century’s — and mankind’s — worst wars.

Winston Churchill warned there was no appeasing totalitarian governments. Evil regimes only ceased their scourge when facing a people who refused to surrender. Churchill’s prophetic voice was nearly ignored in this, and of what the world was to become in the Cold War. Flaws and all, he reached a level few “leaders” today can approach.

George Orwell experienced in the Spanish Civil War that all totalitarian governments were indistinguishable — whether fascist or communist — in their aims and results. His politics were polar opposite of Churchill’s, but they arrived at the same truths through life, not hypothetical debate. His books Animal Farm and 1984 emerged from those experiences, becoming timeless warnings that wherever power existed, abuse of that power would occur.

After surviving the trenches of World War I, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien became academic scholars. While their contemporaries were writing dismal books on the dark future of humanity, Lewis and Tolkien refused to give in to such defeatism. They eschewed the materialistic and naturalistic philosophies that had brought the world to its knees, and were also being used to paint a future of darkness for humanity. Their fantasy novels were more than fairy tales — they unveiled the hope and the Story that had been gifted to men and women — and that Evil could be crushed.

Out of a dark age came these bright lights. We would be dangerously amiss to snuff them out.


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Need for Adventure

“Adventures?  Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things!” said Bilbo to Gandalf.  If he only knew. The scenes that follow — the arrival of the dwarves who take over his home — did not seem to be a favorite in the films, but was an essential part of the book.  In it we see much of ourselves.

Bilbo was set in his ways, in his little world. Didn’t want to be bothered, nor wanted any deviations from the norm. So imagine the disruption of this rowdy band taking up residence, uninvited. Think about about how people handle disruptions in their life. Poorly. Even good, life-changing ones. We don’t see what goes on around us. Neighbors in need. Corrupt governments.  If the snack bag is full, and the batteries are good in the remote, we’re a-okay.  Devin Brown writes in Hobbit Lessons, “We might also think of someone who can’t bear to be away from their laptop for more than a few minutes. Or someone for whom being out of cell phone range counts as a real hardship.”  Sad.

We see Bilbo’s change in his dwarf encounter. Brown writes that the hobbit senses “he is missing something” and decides to go on a “quest to live more fully” and ultimately becomes a critical part in the history of his world.

Are you going to challenge your status quo? How are you going to handle the next disruption?

Perhaps we all need a quest. An adventure.


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To Middle-Earth One More Time

Part three of The Hobbit trilogy has come and, in all likelihood, is the last of Middle-Earth’s time on the big screen. Fans never thought they would have to wait nine years from the original trilogy to revisit this world that became a bit of a December tradition. And so that now ends, but Middle-Earth will never leave us.

It has been over seventy-five years since The Hobbit was first published. How many books endure that long? Few. Fewer still inspire films that don’t quickly fade from history. Fans argued which film trilogy was better. Such arguments usually ignored the fact that you couldn’t expect to compare the two. The books themselves were quite different, Tolkien never changing the style of his first to match the latter volumes. He didn’t feel the need to change it, other than a few details. So the filmmakers had to find a careful balance: Make The Hobbit more in line with the look and feel of the first films without losing its unique, and lighter, traits.

Keeping that in mind, the films largely succeeded. By the end of the latest, you are shown a Middle-Earth that is changing and the future holds darkness. Not the finality of The Return of the King, because it isn’t the end. It is a prologue to what is to come (or what has already passed, depending how you look at it).

Why has Middle-Earth captured readers (and now film lovers) for so long? Why has it inspired so much in the fantasy and other genres?

Because behind all the creatures, the fantastic battles, wizards and elves, it’s about people. People who stand against evil, who never abandon each other even in the darkest times, and risk it all in the process.

It’s the Story about who we all want to be. What we were meant to be.


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Immerse Yourself into Middle-Earth

A few months ago in my post More Than Just a Fantasy we looked at how the fantasy genre — in particular J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision — is relevant to us in its stories and themes. In particular, Matthew Dickerson’s book A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, showed us how Tolkien’s worldview was populated with many deep ideas to ponder and learn from.

With the release of the second Hobbit film, it’s a good time for Tolkien fans to once again dig deep into his mythos and what formed what has become a classic part of 20th Century literature. There is no shortage of books to peruse, but a couple stand out.

There is the before-mentioned by Dickerson, which focuses on how Tolkien’s Christian beliefs were the foundation to his writings. Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology is the go to biography of Tolkien and exploration of his many inspirations. John Garth expands on one aspect of Tolkien’s past, his serving in World War I, in Tolkien and the Great War. The War of the Ring had some very real life parallels.

For those just looking for guides through the incredibly realized Middle-Earth, The Atlas of Middle Earth and Tolkien’s World from A to Z are indispensable guides.

If you wish Tolkien himself had written more of his creation, he did in The Children of Hurin and The Silmarillion (both completed by his son after Tolkien’s death).

To top all this off, Christopher Snyder’s new The Making of Middle-Earth covers a little bit of everything of Tolkien’s world and legacy. It’s a great place to start for all Tolkien students and fans.

Do you need these books to enjoy Tolkien’s fiction? No. Do they make you want to go back and re-read and become immersed — deeply so — into Middle-Earth like it was the first time? Yes, they certainly do.

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More Than “Just a Fantasy”

It’s not often that popular fiction stays in print for decades. Even less often does it have the depth that allows it to transcend the imaginary barrier from pop to literature or even to the status of classics. Even most of what is today referred to as literary fiction, well, won’t stand the test of time. Every so often there are books that do the impossible. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, as embodied in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, have done just that and have endured for over a half a century.

Many have only been exposed to Tolkien’s world through the recent movie versions. Or perhaps you think fantasy is just that, fantasy. Elves, trolls and big battles. Doesn’t sound very relevant to the real world, does it? There must be a reason why Middle-Earth is still the inspiration for an entire genre and still attacts millions of readers decades after its publication.

Because it is relevant.

Like any great book, the author has the primary responsibility for its success. Tolkien was a scholar, not a fiction writer. His mastery of history, language and culture allowed him to create an alternate history of Earth. This wasn’t his most important strength, however. Like any writer, his beliefs and convictions inform and influence his words on paper. As a great writer, he didn’t strive to lecture or teach as much as meant to entertain.

And so there have been endless books critically analyzing every aspect of Tolkien’s world. Most of today’s “literature” never warrants such study. One of the best such scholarly, yet accessible, endeavors is Matthew Dickerson’s A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

Dickerson explores Tolkien’s many themes such as the free will of men, moral responsibility and war. This last may be apparent from the film versions and people may think it the overwhelming part. Indeed it is in many ways, but Tolkien wove many subtleties in his stories.

War is at time necessary, but takes a terrible toll on all, even the victors. That is clear in the books, as is that the forces of good should never use evil to conquer evil. The means don’t always justify the end. The Ring could be used to destroy Sauron, but at what cost? What did it do to all that did use or want it, often with the best of intentions? Even the way the “good guys” treated captured enemies was diametrically opposed to how the Enemy treated their prisoners. Moral and military victories aren’t always the same thing. Discussions like these in Dickerson’s book reveal some very deep issues embedded in Tolkien’s books.

Thoughtful people will begin to realize that all the screaming “experts” on television who pretend to be intellectuals, never approach the mind of someone like Tolkien. Unlike them, he doesn’t preach, browbeat or lecture his readers. His beliefs are so well-thought out, they naturally flow within the story. They make his book an endless treasure chest to be searched.

The films captured Tolkien’s world better than any other book-to-screen adaptation, but there is much more. If you are someone who likes books that can reveal new depth at every reading, or you have never delved into a book for a literary study, Dickerson’s book will surprise and challenge you to do just that with Tolkien.

And no doubt you will pick up Tolkien’s books again and read them like it was the first time.

Categories: Books, Fiction, Writing | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Hobbit and Evil

Fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy didn’t think they would have to wait nine years for The Hobbit. It was worth the wait. Peter Jackson’s team has once again put the time (and money) into bringing this classic mythos to life.

It’s also one of those films that reminds you the power of the medium. Most films don’t gain anything from the big screen format. You might as well watch them on television. Films like The Hobbit remind you of why people still go to the theater in the age of high-def television.

I had been wondering how they would make The Hobbit into three parts (this seemed a bit excessive). Seeing how part one only makes it through the first six of nineteen chapters, it’s easy to figure out now. This should make Tolkien purists happy because this means the movie makers are following the book closer, they have the time. There were a number of things in the film I forgot were in the book making it nearly as epic as the others. They also draw on Tolkien’s background history to fill in the details, as the book isn’t as detail-heavy as the sequels. I haven’t had any issue with what deviations were made in the films. They all were done in a way that kept with Tolkien’s vision. In my analysis, I still think they are perhaps the best book-to-film translations ever attempted.

Some may see the films or books as just entertainment, but Tolkien spent a lifetime creating a mythos with far more detail than most writers ever imagine. An Oxford professor, he approached his writing as if it were a scholarly pursuit. Yet it was still entertaining and captivating, full of themes and message (though he never intentionally preached, so to speak, his beliefs informed his work). That’s why it has endured for so long (The Hobbit was originally published in 1937, mainly directed at children. Don’t see many children books like this anymore, do we?).

Tolkien drew on many influences in creating Middle-Earth. Most notably his Christian worldview, from which one of his most important themes came:

Evil exists.

Not only that, he witnessed the worst men could do while serving in World War I, which undoubtedly colored his writing. In fact, he began creating his world while in the trenches. Throughout his books, he made it clear that evil was always there, even when not obvious, waiting for a time to explode or conquer. When it did, it must be stopped.

It’s funny how Lord of the Rings, in many ways a war novel, saw a resurgence during the 1960s. Though I doubt, because of his own experiences, Tolkien would ever promote rushing into war. He also knew we can’t pretend evil doesn’t exist or that it may just go away.

It always comes back.

In time of tragedy, people always ask why? That is the normal reaction and indeed there are many causes for terrible events, like the recent shootings. It was disturbing that political groups and politicians immediately starting talking about guns, as if they whispered into these people’s ears and turned them insane. That’s the easy way out. Addressing actual causes is difficult. Admitting evil exists makes us scared and helpless.

Given that one of the cornerstones of most religions is that evil exists, one wonders why so many pretend it doesn’t. We want to be safe, secure and happy, but we don’t want to be vigilant. We’ve been told evil isn’t real and we, through law and government, can stamp it all out. We downplay talk of evil in our religions, so not to scare people away. We have made religion into another helpful fad to get us through life. Then something horrible happens. We are forced back into reality.

Sadly, most who are not directly effected by the tragedy, soon forget and go back to their lives. Evil grows and prospers and is ignored.

Tolkien believed in it. He saw it in war and never forgot it.

I hope all will pray and do whatever they can to help the people effected by the recent unimaginable violence in Connecticut and elsewhere. I also hope these things: People will realize what they have here in this country. The opportunities for them and their family and that there are some places in this world were this violence is a regular event. Remember what it took to create and defend this country and don’t use crisis as an excuse to act too quick and not address the real issues. Times of disaster and tragedy are the times we need to protect our rights the most, because in the end, if we don’t, far greater calamities will occur. Just look to history.

Some think “doing something about guns” will solve these problems. Timothy McVeigh didn’t use guns to massacre people. Nor did the terrorists on 9/11. Evil wants us to think it is just that simple, ban this or that. They want us to look the wrong way.

Ask the right questions. If we don’t, evil will continue to win.

Update: Others are also talking about evil and not pretending it doesn’t exist. See posts by John Eldridge and Mike Duran.

Categories: Books, Critical Thinking, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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