A Thief in the Night


This article first appeared in Christian Research Journal, volume 35, number 06 (2012). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org


The director Peter Jackson is making J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic fairy tale, The Hobbit, into a film. Three films, to be precise. Tolkien’s son, Christopher, guardian of his father’s flame, objects to what he sees as the filmmaker’s “commercialization” of the story. If he is correct and Jackson is cashing in, allowing mercenary motives to override esthetic considerations, the situation could not be more ironic because The Hobbit is above all a story about greed and the overcoming of greed. The dragon Smaug, the avaricious dwarves, the addicted Gollum—they are all in thrall to gold. On the other hand, Gandalf and the eagles and Beorn the bear-man are free from its power, as is Bilbo Baggins, the appointed “burglar” of the story, a hobbit with a disarmingly innocent attitude to wealth. It is Bilbo who breaks the logjam caused by dwarvish cupidity and he does so in a surprisingly Christlike fashion. Tolkien’s tale shows us that the love of money, the root of all evil, can only be overcome by a “thief in the night.”

When the director Peter Jackson announced that his movie adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit would come in two parts, I suspect most people were surprised but basically approving. The Hobbit is sufficiently rich in invention to be able to survive a two-movie treatment, and the tale falls rather naturally into two sections in any case. The first part consists of Chapters 1 through 9 and tells of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins’s enrollment as official “burglar” to a party of thirteen dwarves who intend to recapture the gold stolen from them by the dragon Smaug, and of their early adventures escaping trolls, goblins, wolves, spiders, and elves; also of their meeting with the eagles and with the bear-man, Beorn, and of Bilbo’s discovery of a ring of invisibility. When the ninth chapter ends with the protagonists floating downriver in barrels, “but whether alive or dead still remains to be seen” (161),1 Tolkien is deliberately signaling the end of Act One and the beginning of Act Two. Of course, they are still alive, and the latter half of the story is entirely concerned with the adventures surrounding Smaug and the getting of the gold.

Moreover, as Tolkien’s friend C. S. Lewis noted, there is a distinct change in “tone and style”2 as the story progresses. Its flavor at the start is that of a fairy tale “dressed up as ‘for children’” with plenty of knowing asides about two-headed trolls, the origin of golf (a feature that Tolkien later regretted), and so on. By the end, the tone is almost that of a tribal bard chanting an ancient epic: “Ere long the vanguard swirled round the spur’s end…and already their cries and howls rent the air afar” (238).

Given that The Hobbit falls neatly into two parts, both in its action and in its tone, Peter Jackson’s initial decision to make a two-part film adaptation seemed not only excusable, but sensible.

To read this article in its entirety, please visit: http://www.equip.org/articles/thief-night-christian-ethic-heart-hobbit/

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