Devin Brown gets it. The Hobbit is more than a children’s story.
When most people think about The Hobbit, they think of a tale they may or may not have read (or had read to them) when they were young. Most of us who have read, or re-read, the famous book by JRR Tolkien as adults understand it is more than that. Tolkien not only spins a nice yarn about the “there and back again” journey of a strange creature called a hobbit, but provides some pretty good life lessons, too.
Which is not to say Tolkien is “preachy” or heavy-handed in how he conveys these lessons. There are certainly passages which would make for good sermon material, but it’s doubtful The Professor had that in mind when he wrote the book. He probably didn’t have conveying life lessons to his children (for whom the story was originally created) at the forefront of his mind as he wrote. The impression he leaves is the life lessons which were an integral part of the man naturally flowed out as he worked out the tale.
So, why take the subtlety Tolkien endued into The Hobbit and make the lessons so plain, as Devin Brown does in his book, Hobbit Lessons? Perhaps the case is similar to what Jesus did in explaining his parables to his disciples, or, perhaps better, what the Apostles did in the Epistles explaining how the teachings of Jesus should be lived out in the lives of his followers in their particular place and time in history.
Brown understands Tolkien and how he thought, and is able to translate what the tale was “getting at” in a way few could. Most importantly, perhaps, he understands Tolkien’s Christian beliefs and ideals. Which is not to say the lessons to be gleaned from The Hobbit are uniquely, or even particularly, Christian. A quick look at the chapter titles does not immediately suggest Christian themes:
When Adventure Comes Knocking, Let It In (Even If It Makes You Late for Dinner)
Have Your Friends’ Backs (Someone Has Yours)
Be Fond of Waistcoats, Pocket Handkerchiefs, and Even Arkenstones (Just Don’t Let Them Become Too Precious)
Remember Not All That Is Gold Glitters (In Fact, Life’s Real Treasures Are Quite Ordinary Looking)
Recognize You Are Only a Little Fellow in a Wide World (But Still an Important Part of a Larger Story)
Find the Enchantment All Around You (Even If You Are Not a Wizard)
However, while these ideas are all fairly universal, Brown does show how Tolkien’s Christian thinking affected the details of the story. In the chapter on having your friends’ backs, he mentions how providence has a place in the details. Although The Hobbit never expresses it directly, it is obvious the Ring was not found by accident, nor were other details in the book mere coincidence. In The Lord of the Rings, this idea is expressed a bit more directly by Gandalf:
“I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you [Frodo] also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.“
Brown expresses the lesson for us this way:
“If we learn what Bilbo learns, we, too, come to see that all along someone has always been there, working in ways that are not always apparent, watching out for us. … and this knowledge—knowing that someone has been and will always be there managing our adventures—frees us to help others.“