Many of [J. R. R.] Tolkien's contemporaries, writers such as Sartre and Beckett, depicted a universe that seemed purposeless, one populated by people whose lives had no real meaning. By contrast, in The Hobbit we find a world charged with a special kind of purpose—one which is beneficial in a particular way for both the individual and the world he is a part of. This purpose is similar to the one which is a part of the foundations of the Christian faith.
In chapter one when Gandalf tells Thorin and the dwarves that Bilbo is the "chosen and selected" burglar, it is hard not to share the dwarves' doubts and disbelief. As someone accurately described by Gloin as looking "more like a grocer than a burglar," Bilbo displays little in the beginning that suggests he will be an asset on the quest. His most defining characteristic at this point seems to be his excessive need for the comforts and safety found in his snug hobbit-hole—his warm fireplace and kettle, his cakes and fine waistcoats, and his pocket handkerchiefs. Even five chapters later when the dwarves discover that Bilbo did not escape from the goblins with them, the consensus is still that he has been more trouble to them than use.
So why was Bilbo chosen? The answer, we discover, is two-fold. Bilbo has a greater potential that only Gandalf—and whoever has sent Gandalf—can see. This forms the basis for the entire story. The adventure is going to allow a part of Bilbo to emerge which needs to emerge. Through it he will become the hobbit he was intended to be. We could say that the adventure will be the making of him. And at the same time, Bilbo has been chosen, not just because the adventure will do him good, but ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more