The title of Devin Brown’s book is sure to raise some eyebrows. How could a world filled with dwarves, elves, goblins, wizards, and hobbits be considered Christian? Brown uses what we know about the author of the famous children’s story, along with his attention to the detail and careful wording of The Hobbit, to show how JRR Tolkien wove his faith into its pages.
In Chapter 1, Brown cites various letters sent by Tolkien to demonstrate how Tolkien himself viewed The Hobbit as “an ‘essentially’ Christian story.” This does not mean there are overt references to Christianity, or even clear allegorical references. As Tolkien famously wrote to Father Murray, a personal friend who had read and commented on proofs of The Lord of the Rings, “the religious element was absorbed into the story.” While Tolkien says this was a conscious endeavor for The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit also definitely has Christian elements embedded in the storyline. It is not the overtness of the religious elements, but the worldview of the author, which makes a work “Christian,” Brown argues. Contrasting Tolkien’s stories with those of Albert Camus, he concludes:
“Just as we call ‘The Guest’ existentialist because it represents a fundamentally existential worldview, we can also classify Tolkien’s fiction as Christian because it presents a fundamentally Christian worldview.” [p.38]
He goes on, in the bulk of the book, to show how Providence, purpose, and the moral landscape presented in The Hobbit reflect the Christian worldview. The last chapter deals with the legacy of The Hobbit, and includes a section about whether the “scary parts” are appropriate for children. Tolkien, in a letter to Richard Hughes, who had read an advance copy of the book, addressed such concerns.
“The presence (even if only on the borders) of the terrible is, I believe, what gives the imagined world its verisimilitude. A safe fairy-land is untrue to all worlds.” [p.166, citing The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter]
The Christian worldview does not avoid the frightening, but includes the remedy. There is evil in this world, but evil can be overcome. Tolkien believed this is an important message for children to learn. They do not learn of fear from storybooks; this world teaches them that. But stories can give them hope as they see these fears can be conquered.
Not a bad message for us as adults, either.