This has been out there a while now, but if you didn’t see Archbishop Chaput’s lecture, it is well worth watching. I am a big fan of Archbishop Chaput and his is a voice we need in today’s society. As we debate the need for religious freedom in the courts and in society at large, Archbishop Chaput outlines the battle lines and the principles that should guide us in thinking through our current situation in light of eternal truths.
This work is a prerequisite for those who have not read The Hobbit or who are still waiting to see the movie. (By the way, what are you waiting for?!) For Lord of the Rings fans, the book will be an even more welcome addition to your library. Pearce takes a critical look at The Hobbit in light of Tolkien’s other, and arguably better, works. The conclusion? The Hobbit provided a good introduction to Tolkien’s later works, particularly the Rings trilogy, but standing alone, The Hobbit is limited in its quality or staying power.
Yet that does not mean that The Hobbit is without its own merits. Rather, The Hobbit provides an elementary introduction to Tolkien as a whole. Pearce outlines basic themes that are born in The Hobbit and come to adulthood in Lord of the Rings. Although the depth of Lord of the Rings far surpasses The Hobbit, the themes in the prior work are worthy of some study and meditation.
For instance, Pearce teases out the theme of “dragon sickness” in The Hobbit that appears in the physical form of a dragon, Smaug. Later, in Lord of the Rings, “we are presented instead with a variety of dragons in disguise, all of whom are afflicted with a self-same dragon sickness that pervades the earlier work.” (86) In both works, “the characters are destroyed ultimately by their addiction to deadly sins.” (86) In both works, we learn how the stain of sin can become all consuming. And, in the end, “those who do not believe in dragons become dragons” themselves.
Another theme that runs through both works is the distinction between “luck” and “providence.” Perhaps the central theme of this work, we glimpse Tolkien’s larger project of discussing the gradual unfolding of providence in every Christian’s life. Pearce discusses the many instances in which characters experience a revelation or insight that The Hobbit attributes to “luck.” (24-28) The “luck” of reading a map at just the right time, the “luck” of Bilbo’s finding the ring and being the one to make the journey. But “[f]or those, such as Tolkien and Gandalf, who believe that things are meant to happen there is no problem in believing.” (27) That “[l]uck is not merely chance but is evidence of meaning and purpose in the cosmos.” (27)
Ultimately, Pearce’s explication of Bilbo’s story is a microcosm of the Christian life. Bilbo, like us, “is but a small part of a much bigger providential picture.” (118). We see in the themes of The Hobbit the same themes of our own Christian drama played out every day. Ours are not heroic acts on fearful journeys, but daily tasks that forge our souls for the battle. And there is a battle we are waging, with a foe who is fiercer than any dragon. Yet God’s power, His providence, are guiding us not only to dodge the attacks of our enemies, but to conquer death itself in a decisive way. Bilbo Baggins is small in the eyes of the world, but great in the plan of providence. We, too, must see our place in the cosmos, take up our arms, and fight the good fight that will bring not a ring, but a crown of victory.
This review is an objective critique of this work. For an honest review, the publisher provided the reviewer with a complimentary copy of the book. If you would like to purchase Bilbo’s Journey, you may do so at the St. Benedict’s Press website. Check back for more reviews of other great Catholic works.
The best aspect of this book is that it contains practical advice from other men who are in the trenches of life, striving to live out their manhood in a fully Catholic way. The book’s authors are an A-List of Catholic men in the Church today, involved in a variety of apostolates and professions (Brian Caulfield, Mike Aquilina, Damon Owens, Ray Guarendi, Patrick Madrid, and others). That diverse group of men provides other men with insights that can appeal to men in any situation in life.
The chapters are short enough to read one a day before bed or upon rising in the morning. They are good food for thought as one continually seeks to reorient oneself to God and to living as a fully alive human being. And while some chapters will be more helpful than others, the topics are likely something that every dad has dealt with in one way or another–children, sex, work-life balance, discipline, marriage, and more. The authors treat the subjects not as experts in their given field, but as fellow sojourners along the way. They are challenging without condemning. They are insightful without being condescending. They are short, but packed with substance.
When I read this book, I could not stick to my one-chapter-a-night plan. I read it in a couple days because I could not resist seeing what was in the next chapter. All of the insights I’ve learned have helped me reorient my own thoughts about being a man and father in today’s society. I learned a lot from these men–and it is good to know that others have dealt with the same issues.
I would recommend this book to any Catholic father who needs a little additional support or an additional jolt to help him stay on course. It would be a great Christmas, birthday, or Father’s Day gift for your own father to give him some practical help in his striving to be a good husband and father. Men are under attack in our society and this book can provide men with the armor and weapons they need to do battle for their faith and family.
This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Man to Man-Dad to Dad: Catholic Faith and Fatherho. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papalYear of Faith.