Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Ivory Cubicle | An Unexpected Journey

I've been a J.R.R. Tolkien nerd since I first discovered him in my latter days of middle school. I've read the books, seen the movies, read the obscure books, played the Lord of the Rings trading card game (don't laugh, so did Joel and Jeremiah), played The Battle for Middle Earth, could probably beat most of you at Lord of the Rings trivia games and downloaded a Lord of the Rings patch for Total War. So, with the first Hobbit movie releasing tonight at midnight, I figured I couldn't pass up an opportunity to appreciate the genius of one of my literary heroes.

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit...

Tolkien was arguably the greatest literary mind of the 20th century. In an era where epic literature was largely being discarded in favor of novels, where fantasy was under attack as “unrealistic” and where the average schoolchild was being taught to disregard spirited works of literature as “irrational,” he sat down to craft a universe, not just a book, mind you, but an entire universe, with its own creators, mythology, races, languages, poetry and tales.

Tolkien was careful in his work. He spent considerable time crafting genealogies of his characters and making sure that they all coincided, recounting tales of fierce battles, centuries-long alliances. His stories were full of peace, war, love, hatred, honor and cowardice. There was none of the slapdash, haphazard fiction writing of which he accused his colleague C.S. Lewis (Lewis' fiction works were always dedicated towards communicating a moral, plot and consistency were secondary). Each of Tolkien's words were crafted for a reason, rich with analogy and application and constantly informed by his Christian faith.

In 1937, Tolkien's first work, The Hobbit, was published. It tells the tale a story of Bilbo Baggins, a small, comfortable hobbit who is visited by an old wizard named Gandalf, launched on a fast-paced adventure, far away from his familiar home, with a band of unlikely friends (dwarves) on a quest to reclaim their rightful home.

Like all great Christian authors, there's a moral lurking behind every page in Tolkien's work. What strikes me the most about the Hobbit is the similarity between Bilbo's call and the Christian's call. Bilbo was a wealthy, respectable hobbit, who never did anything unpredictable, and had no reason to be discontent with his lot in life. But Gandalf came to Bilbo and called him to a life of adventure and hardship. He gave Bilbo no clear picture where he was going, or how he was to get there, but simply a calling to go.

We as Christians experience a similar calling to Bilbo's. We are content with all the comforts this world has to offer – peace, wealth and respectability. But Christ comes into our lives and shakes things up. He calls us to do something unpredictable. He doesn't tell us where we're going and how to get there and he doesn't tell us that it's going to be easy. He calls us to follow him through the high and the low points to reach the final treasure set before us. But that treasure we have waiting for us is far more valuable than mere dragon's plunder.

By Nick Barden

(P.S. Picture included to dispel all doubt of my nerdiness. Yes, that is a Latin edition of The Hobbit).

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