31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2012
With the first of three Hobbit movies coming out in December, there is certain to be a lot of "Bilbo baggage" published in the next few years--Hobbit guides hastily composed by authors with little previous knowledge of Tolkien, his critics, or the fantasy genre in general. Devin Brown's book is certain to stand out from the crowd. His work is thoroughly grounded in Tolkien's fiction, his letters and essays, and the work of previous Tolkien scholars.
Professor Brown is a perceptive and judicious reader, one who convincingly explains how Tolkien's faith is expressed in his fiction. Brown is one of those "attentive readers" Tolkien asked for in one of his letters, the kind who notices all the subtle ways in which the One and his angelic emissaries "peep through" the story, as Tolkien phrased it. Brown is especially careful to detail all the instances of providential good fortune in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, examples of what Tolkien's fellow Inkling Charles Williams called "holy luck." Brown reveals the underlying optimism of Tolkien's world view, the faith in a nearly invisible Benevolence that weaves together all the good and bad decisions of Middle Earth's characters into an epic tale that inevitably leads to "eucatastrophe," the "good ending" that Tolkien expected to find in all great fiction and in life itself.
Brown is already a distinguished Narnia scholar, so he is especially well equipped to explore the relations between faith and fiction, as expressed differently in the fantasy worlds of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Brown carefully and cogently explains why The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings may be viewed as Christian fantasy, even though they lack the explicit biblical parallels or theological echoes that appear so often in the Chronicles of Narnia.
With a dragon's hoard of Hobbit guides just hitting the bookshelves in time for Peter Jackson's new trilogy, I would recommend re-reading The Hobbit first, and then Devin Brown's The Christian World of The Hobbit second.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2012
The Christian World of the Hobbit is a more accomplished and satisfying work of critical analysis than Dr. Brown's previous well-received works on Narnia, as Tolkien's Christianity is buried deeper than C. S. Lewis's, requiring the reader to push further up and further in. Tolkien's work is charged with both magic and meaning. By illuminating the finer shades of meaning, The Christian World of the Hobbit brings renewed incandescence to the magic.
As with most famous authors, Tolkien's work is well-trodden scholarly ground, and most of what is on offer is only of use, or even of interest, to specialists. As the saying goes, history repeats itself, and historians repeat each other. So with literary scholarship. Originality in critical thinking is as rare as originality in storytelling. Thus, what Dr. Brown has given us is not ground-breaking - one would not expect it to be - but rather an accessible synthesis for the general, and particularly the younger reader. With the admirable lucidity he has demonstrated in his previous books, Dr. Brown has provided a highly useful book for parents to read as they reread The Hobbit with, or to, their children, as surely they will with the release of the new Hobbit movie.
The unsettling and unfortunate reality is that the vast majority of so-called `Christian Fiction' is disconcertingly bad. In reading The Christian World of the Hobbit, we are reminded that there is at least one Christian author who is not merely accomplished, but a master of his craft. It is a happy and comforting remembrance.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2012
As the book critic for NarniaFans.com, I have had the pleasure of reviewing Professor Brown's Inside Narnia Series for the site and have enjoyed it all immensely. Much to say, I was more then excited to see that he had taken up the pen to write about JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I had found the Inside Narnia series to be among the few books on literary analysis that are actually fun to read, and knew that would be the case here.
Sure enough, I was pleased. Not only is his book actually fun to read, it is very insightful. Now, despite the title, fans of Tolkien's world don't have to worry that Devin will be writing about how Sting is the Sword of the Spirit or any other vague connections people have found to Tolkien's mythology and scripture.
Instead, Brown looks at Tolkien, his beliefs, and how those shaped Middle-earth. He examines a few key themes including Divine Providence, Purpose and the battle of good versus evil. Each of the pints he makes are backed up not only by Tolkien's original texts from The Hobbit, but from The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien's own letters.
The biggest draw of this book is that it is actually about The Hobbit. So few have bothered to write on Tolkien's classic tale and just focus on Lord of the Rings, and it is a shame. While Lord of the Rings may be "better" it was The Hobbit that really started it all.
An excellent book!
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2012
What Devin Brown does best in his new book, The Christian World of The Hobbit, is give his readers access. There is a subtly to Tolkien's Middle-earth tales which makes them an enigma from the beginning. Brown offers several keys to The Hobbit's mysteries, keys which open doors and give us entry into Tolkien's hidden world, a world which is unabashedly Christian at its deepest foundations.
The Hobbit is not an allegory of Christian truth, but a vision of the world. Christian themes nevertheless flow beneath Tolkien's Middle-earth, and Brown focuses on three of them: providence, purpose and morality.
As in the books of Ruth and Esther, a divine hand is not overtly present in Middle-earth, yet Bilbo's journey is filled with a strange luck, a providence which "seems to help Bilbo when he needs help but not always when he wants it" (Brown 52). A mysterious power works behind all things in The Hobbit, echoing the mysterious ways in which God works in the world.
The theme of purpose appears in the connections between Bilbo's call to a treasure hunt and the dark lord Sauron's return to Middle-earth. Gandalf is pressed by an urge he does not understand to send Bilbo with the company of dwarves on their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Later, in The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf comes to understand that the success of the quest in The Hobbit (which was only possible because of Bilbo's actions) along with Bilbo's finding of the ring of power and then passing it on to Frodo (in LOTR), were absolutely necessary for the final defeat of Sauron.
The Hobbit is, furthermore, a book about difficult moral choices, whether it is Bilbo's choice to spare Gollum's life or Thorin's choice to do his best to keep all the dragon gold for himself. In all of these choices, Tolkien presents a world in which right and wrong are clearly defined. One of Brown's most insightful sub-chapters reveals how Tolkien valued a life of the "Sacramental Ordinary" (144). It is an attitude which values the ordinary things of life as extraordinary gifts. Part of The Hobbit's excellence is in showing us the magic of life on God's earth. Brown concludes that "a reverence, celebration, and love of the everyday is an essential part of Tolkien's moral vision" (149).
The chief good in The Christian World of The Hobbit, is its success in providing access to some of Tolkien's most important ideas. If "brevity is the soul of wit," Devin Brown may be the first to capture the soul of Tolkien's Hobbit. His succinct, accessible writing carries us through the lengthy tomes of Tolkien's Middle-earth to the Christian vision which lies at its very core.
Charlie W. Starr is the Humanities Program Chair at Kentucky Christian University. He is the author five books, most recently, Light: C. S. Lewis's First and Final Short Story (Winged Lion, 2012).
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
One of the first things most people learn about J.R.R. Tolkien is that he was a strong Christian throughout his life, devoted to the Catholic Church amd faithful to its teachings. Yet many also assume that because there is no overt worship of a God or gods in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that his best known stories are without "religion." Even more sadly, some maintain that because there are wizards, elves, orcs, balrogs, and other beings with supernatural powers in Tolkien's stories they cannot be "Christian" at all. Devin Brown's short but deep and moving book refutes those who would maintain Middle-earth is a Godless place by describing the many ways in which Tolkien's faith permeates The Hobbit.
The Christian World Of The Hobbit is divided into five chapters. The introductory chapter, which is biographical in part, discusses Tolkien's own comments on the religious faith behind his writings. The next four chapters deal with Providence, Purpose, The Moral Landscape, and Response and Legacy. I enjoyed all of these, recognizing elements that parallel my own life story, particularly in the sections dealing with Providence and Purpose. I was also pleased to read Brown's description of the "sacramental ordinary," the way in which fairy stories help us "recover a proper wonder for simple things." Throughout the book Brown not only uses Tolkien's own thoughts from his letters and books but also refers to similar ideas from C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, among others.
Besides the reminders of the deep Christian faith which underlies Middle-earth I also found Brown's comparisons of Tolkien's philosophy with the moral vacuum found in Sartre and other Existentialists both enlightening and encouraging. The book is less than 200 pages, including a lengthy Reference List, but it is weighty with wisdom nonetheless.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2014
Entirely justified by the text, Devin Brown's thesis that Tolkien's Christian (particularly Catholic) theology and religion pervade The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is fascinating and illuminating. I teach a course in Tolkien and Lewis, and I'm going to have my students read this book, both for its content and for its example of close reading and insightful thesis defense. But you don't have to be in a college class - or a Christian, either - to appreciate this most illuminating critical approach to Tolkien's Hobbit-centered fiction.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I remember the first time I entered the world of Middle-earth. I was twelve or thirteen and noticed an interesting little yellow book on my mother's shelf. I'm not entirely sure if she ever read it or not -- as that kind of book was not what I remember her reading. But I asked if I could read it and eagerly dove in. At that age I don't believe I was even aware there was a sequel to the book. But from the first few moments I was hooked.
Fantasy literature isn't everyone's cup of tea, and all books in the genre of fantasy are not created equal. Few rise to the level of art achieved by J.R.R. Tolkien. His books, "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings", are among the most widely read in the English language. And like countless readers of Tolkien before me, I found the world he crafted to be enchanting and alluring.
Tolkien's world, the land of Middle-earth, is a place readers long to return to. Yet spending time in Middle-earth is not an exercise in futility or a way to check out of the here and now. In an ironic fashion, Tolkien's world inspires noble efforts in the real world, and calls us all to live better and nobler lives.
Tolkien scholar Devon Brown, elaborates on this quality of Tolkien's works:
...it might also be argued that the biggest reason his works have been so deeply loved, both in the previous century and the present one, is because they not only entertain readers -- they also enrich their readers' lives and make them more meaningful. (p. 11)
Brown explores the world Tolkien made in a new book "The Christian World of the Hobbit" (Abingdon Press, 2012). In this work, he demonstrates how Tolkien's Christian worldview bleeds through his written works and permeates the world he made. This aspect of Tolkien's work is puzzling to many. His books have almost no references to God or anything remotely similar to church or religion, and yet they are hailed by many as Christian novels advocating a Christian worldview. Sure there is a fight between right and wrong, and right wins -- but is that enough to classify the book as Christian?
Brown's analysis uncovers abundant clues from the author himself, both inside the covers of his books, as well as from his own reflections and letters about them, which put this question to rest. Tolkien's use of the term "luck" and "good fortune" is an ironic way to point the reader toward the conclusion that it wasn't just luck or fortune, but Someone behind it all. Gandalf's statement to Bilbo on the final page of The Hobbit makes this clear: "You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventure and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?" Brown points out that Tolkien as much as acknowledges this in one of his letters:
In a letter, Tolkien offers this additional statement about the veiled power at work in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: "The story and its sequel are... about the achievements of specially graced and gifted individuals. I would say... `by ordained individuals, inspired and guided by an Emissary to ends beyond their individual education and enlargement.' This is clear in The Lord of the Rings; but it is present, if veiled, in The Hobbit from the beginning, and is alluded to in Gandalf's last words. (Letters 365)" (pp. 49-50)
Additional evidence is found in Tolkien's statements about his work being "fundamentally Christian" in nature:
"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision" (Letters 172). [p. 24]
"I am a Christian" and then adds in parentheses "which can be deduced from my stories" (Letters 288). [p. 26]
Tolkien's work is Christian at its core, but not in a superficial manner. Tolkien despised allegory, and would frown on much of what passes as Christian fantasy today. Brown considers works of this type as merely "Christianized." In contrast, Tolkien's thoroughly Christian worldview shapes the very fabric of his stories in a subtle yet profound way. And Tolkien did desire his readers to entertain that worldview for themselves after encountering it in his stories.
Brown also explores the morality inherent in Tolkien's view of Middle-earth. The struggle to better one's self plays a prominent role throughout the story. Bilbo Baggins is no ordinary hero, conquering by his skill with the sword and enduring thanks to his bravado and courage. Instead Bilbo takes on himself and wins. He faces the darker parts of his heart head on: he steps out of his cottage to begin the adventure, he resists the greed and selfishness that entice him to abandon his companions, and ultimately he finds a life spent in service of others is the only truly satisfying way to live.
This book is well-written, lucid and clear. And the artistic touches throughout make it a pleasure to interact with - even in the Kindle version. It abounds with quotations from Tolkien's work and letters, and includes pertinent quotes from other Tolkien scholars. The life of Tolkien, and his own Christian journey are recounted, as well as his famous literary society and its influence on his career. C.S. Lewis features prominently in the book - as he both knew Tolkien as a friend and appreciated his literary output (Brown is also a Lewis scholar). Throughout the book, Brown's first-rate grasp of Tolkien scholarship is apparent and yet he manages to keep the book very accessible.
For those who have read "The Hobbit" more than once, Brown's work will be a joy to read. Even if you are familiar with Tolkien's work only through the films by Peter Jackson, reading "The Christian World of the Hobbit" may spur you on to read the books that have endeared themselves to generations of readers. J.R.R. Tolkien was a Catholic Christian, but his view of morality and Divine providence as conveyed through his stories, is something evangelical Christians will appreciate. Brown allows us to enter Tolkien's universe with a well trained eye, ready to see the glimmers of the Christian worldview that permeates it all. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Abingdon Press. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2013
A masterly exploration of religious themes in The Hobbit. Brown does a beautiful job unpacking Tolkien's treatment of topics such providence, moral growth, humility, mercy, and non-possessiveness. My one beef is that Brown lumps together The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and assumes that what goes for the one goes for the other. The religious themes in The Lord of the Rings are much more prominent than they are in The Hobbit. In fact, the title of Brown's book ("The Christian World of The Hobbit") is misleading. Notions like providence, moral growth, mercy, humility, and a proper perspective on money and possessions, aren't distinctively Christian!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2013
I highly recommend this book. Devin Brown gives more than a mere commentary on the writings of Tolkien. Instead of speaking of possible symbolic representations of the characters (of which I am personally guilty), he enlightens the reader with insights into the Christian world-view that form the foundation of Tolkien's stories about Middle Earth. I've read "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" multiple times and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I plan on reading them yet again, with "A Christian View of the Hobbit" forming a clearer idea of Tolkien's intent.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2013
As a Christian, I had unconsciously assumed that the "luck" and "good fortune" that the characters experience was Divine providence. It was wonderful to see that JRRT had intended this to be so. This book brings out so may layers and details of JRRT writing that is truly reveals what a master writer and story teller he was.
This is a fascinating and informative read. It both helped me better appreciate The Hobbit, as well as encourage me in my own endeavors to weave God's fingerprints into my own writing.