Enjoy the Serkis

I continue to be amazed how well Andy Serkis and movie-making technology are able to pull off the creature Gollum. Bilbo’s “riddles in the dark” scene with Gollum is spectacular. Tolkien would be very pleased, perhaps flattered, to see his complex character come to life so well. This is definitely something to look forward to. The real fanatics may want to re-read chapter 5 in The Hobbit to be ready for the fast-moving dialogue between Bilbo and Gollum that holds very true to Tolkien.

Cut the Writers Some Slack

Some Hobbit fans will be surprised to find two prominent characters in the movie who were not in the book — another wizard, named Radagast the Brown, and a lead villain called Azog, the pale orc. Apparently, these are drawn in from Tolkien’s Silmarillion — I wouldn’t know, haven’t read it — which means another set of Tolkien fans (the Super-Committed) will be thrilled. You try making a 300-page book into three movies. All things considered, Unexpected Journey stays impressively close to Tolkien’s storyline, but introduces some minor twists and turns to fit the medium and keep everyone on their toes. It’s a good blend of fidelity and freshness.

For the ultra-purists, if you just want straight Tolkien, then just read the book. The movie, by necessity, is not, and cannot be, just straight Tolkien. You get Peter Jackson and a lot of others. Which is a good thing. Remind yourself that film is a different medium than book. Try to appreciate both for what they are. Better to prepare yourself now for this than to needlessly bellyache about the movie not being as good as the book.

Listen for the Echoes of the Gospel

At the end of his important essay “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien explains from where he intends his tales to draw their power — from the emotional reservoir of the Christian gospel. The “primary world” story of the Son of God himself, taking full humanity at Christmas, living flawlessly in our fallen world, sacrificing himself to rescue us on Good Friday from God's just wrath, and rising again victorious on Easter as the living Lord of the Universe — here is the Story for which God made the human heart and the Story from which all good stories derive their power.

For Tolkien, the enchantment of the Christian gospel is deeper than allegory (which he thought crass) or merely having a character who is the Jesus figure. Tolkien believed that God made humanity for the Great Joy purchased by and provided in the Good News of Jesus, and that the joy we experience from good fantasy tales stream their power from the real world, the Primary Reality, created by God and culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. In this way, Tolkien thought that all good stories meet with God’s gospel-shape imprint on his creatures.

Finding Jesus in The Hobbit doesn’t mean shoe-horning Gandalf or Bilbo or anyone else into some Christ mold, but following the story, truly tracking its twists, feeling its angst, and knowing that the “turn” — the Great Unexpected Rescue just in the nick of time, the place where our souls are most stirred and relieved and satisfied — is tapping into something deep in us, some way in which God spring-loaded us for the Great Story and the extent to which he went to reclaim us.

*This article first published 12/13/2012

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