Back to the books . . . and beyond

11 Apr

Although no one in the world has really noticed that I’ve been silent for many months, the open space on my desk has been taken over by a pile of books I’ve been sent to review. As a result, I’m back to blogging out of necessity if nothing else. From now on, however, I’ll probably broaden my blogging beyond the books on my desk. We’re rushing headlong into a new political season (the “heinous waste of money,” as one author recently called it); I’m taking a new job at the end of this month (more on that later); I’m going to be the head of Catholic Phoenix fairly soon; and there are, simply, many other things to discuss rather than books. I hope you come along for the ride.

Video

First Things 2014 Erasmus Lecture

17 Nov

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.

Bilbo’s Journey (Joseph Pearce)

13 Nov

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.

Bilbo's Journey

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.

 

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