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Entertainment & the Arts | November 12, 2012

The Spiritual World of The Hobbit


Companion to Tolkien's classic offers a good introduction for both novices and scholars

Bell's companion piece to Tolkien's The Hobbit, timed to the release of the movie, explores lessons from the book and shows how Tolkien's faith infuses it.

Bell begins by explaining Tolkien's ideas on fairy stories, myth, and sub-creation, pointing out that Tolkien viewed his own works as being myths not allegories. He delves into the spiritual truths found in The Hobbit, avoiding two main problems with many Tolkien companions: trite allegorical readings, moralizations, and devotionals with little literary analysis, or academic interpretations appealing only to people who have read everything by Tolkien. Bell sets The Hobbit within the larger context of the history and mythology of Middle Earth. He treats Tolkien's views with respect, and takes the time to quote Tolkien's other works and letters to support his analysis.

One quibble: Bell does not introduce the important idea of Eucatastrophe, which, as a very simple definition, is the feeling of joy experienced by the reader when there is a sudden turn of events in a story from near catastrophe to a positive outcome, until near the very end of the book. Had he explained it earlier in the book, he would have avoided confusing the reader by saying a scene was Deus ex Machine, only to later correct himself and call it a Eucatastrophe. Otherwise, the book is a good introduction for the person who has never read Tolkien. It also benefits the person who is practically a Tolkien scholar.