Magazine article The Christian Century

Longing for Home

Magazine article The Christian Century

Longing for Home

Article excerpt

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit." With that sentence, J. R. R. Tolkien drew us straight into Bilbo Baggins's home and into a Middle-earth in which home and the loved ones in it matter. The film The Hobbit, produced and directed by Peter Jackson, eventually quotes Tolkien's opening sentence, but it takes some time to get to that point. It starts, instead, with Bilbo (played with tender humanity by Martin Freeman) recounting some prehistory to explain the expedition that will lead him to the dragon Smaug.

Jackson begins, then, not with home and a hobbit hole but with fiery destruction, war and exile. The dwarves, like the people of ancient Israel, have been doomed to wander in the wilderness, refugees from the Lonely Mountain. These dwarves (led by Richard Armitage playing a magnificent Thorin) are on a quest, not first for gold but for home, and the film plays up the theme of home, alongside more familiar Tolkien themes of adventure and the importance of small, ordinary folk standing against evil. The relational tension resolves when Bilbo expresses to Thorin his sense that the dwarves deserve what he has in the Shire--a home. Jackson has embroidered Tolkien's text here, but it fits with the story.

Unfortunately, the film does not consistently pursue this theme of home. It seems odd indeed for the filmmakers to inflict 20 minutes of dragon fire on viewers before leading them through that round, green door into Bilbo's house. Why must we see a little girl watch her doll burning before we are treated to the unexpected party in the wood-paneled hobbit hole? Why start with slaughter instead of a dinner party? Why make war the driving engine of the film?

When made the center of the story, the themes of pursuit and battle in The Hobbit become a bit absurd. As the dwarves and Bilbo descend into the goblin lair, the world under the mountain is at first fun to behold: the decadent darkness is lit by sparse fires, and rickety wood structures go down into the deeps. But the unfolding scene becomes silly by the time the dwarves--for the umpteenth time--leap off a burning bridge in the nick of time while orcs fall screaming to their death. The same quality of having been pushed too far mars the final chase scene, which ends with burning trees falling like dominos and a rescue by an eagle that is pushed cartoonishly to the last possible moment. …

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