The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has garnered all sorts of reviews, yet amid the discussions of plot and the general techno-babble, perhaps one thing has been missed. What struck me the most about the film was the way it captured Tolkien’s meaning behind the idea of a “Hobbit.” The character and adventures of Bilbo Baggins demonstrate the importance of ordinary common folk , as well as the idea that heroes are found in the most unexpected places.
As a Baggins, Bilbo can not imagine sacrificing the comforts of home for a life of danger, but Gandalf knows that Took blood flows in Bilbo’s veins and believes he will be an invaluable member of the company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield, who are headed east to reconquer a lost kingdom of gold and defeat the dragon who hoards it.
Obviously, in many ways Bilbo is not the ideal pick for a quest to kill a monster and save a kingdom. He wants to return home for his handkerchief, he has no experience using a weapon, and the thought of death makes him faint–literally. Bilbo’s inadequacies cause his companions to doubt him, and at one point Bilbo almost leaves because he feels he is a useless part of the baggage. However, it is Bilbo who uses his wit to save the dwarves from being eaten by trolls, and at the very end of the movie, it is Bilbo who rushes into battle to save Thorin from being killed by his arch-rival Azog.
One moment of dialogue that depicts this concept happens when Gandalf and Galadriel are discussing the fate of the company. Galadriel asks the wizard, “Why the Halfling?” Gandalf responds:
“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid… He gives me courage.”
The Hobbit’s portrayal of the unexpected importance of ordinary folk reminded me of I Corinthians 1:27-29.
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
The Bible is littered with examples of God using the most unexpected people to accomplish great things. He delivered his people from the greatest ruler in the world with someone who had spent 40 years as a shepherd. He used another overlooked shepherd boy to defeat a blasphemous giant and become the greatest King of Israel. Jesus’s handpicked disciples were a collection of uneducated fishermen. The greatest apostle was someone who once was infamous for stoning and imprisoning Christians. Just as Gandalf chose Bilbo as the fourteenth member of the company and asked Thorin to trust that he would prove himself invaluable, so God regularly uses people to do great things–people no one on earth would think to pick.
This is the great confidence we have as Christians, that God in His mercy does not use us and bless us because of who we are, but He chooses the low, weak, and despised of the world.
In this way The Hobbit points us back to the Great Story–the ultimate story of an unexpected and seemingly ordinary person accomplishing great things. The story of a Child conceived by a young unmarried mother, born in the earthiness of a donkey stable, and whose first cradle was the trough from which the donkeys fed. The only other humans who cared about the birth of this child were shepherds, the outcast of society. His adopted father was a working-class carpenter or stonemason. Somehow, from these humble beginnings, the Savior of the world was born–a man who would transform the future of the world. It is the birth of this Child that we celebrate at Christmas. As the bumblings of the unexpected adventurer Bilbo Baggins show how the ordinary and unexpected are used to accomplish great things, they point us back to the incredible humble story of Christmas.