Dr. Timothy Paul Jones is a distinguished theologian, a professor at The Southern Baptist Seminary, and editor of the Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry. Oh, he’s also a pop culture savant and expert on J.R.R. Tolkien. We recently got him talking about The Hobbit movie―care to listen in?
T&TO: What should every parent know about The Hobbit?
Jones: The Hobbit will span three films: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and There and Back Again (2014). The films are based on a book from J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien wrote the book for children, although the book’s readership has long since transcended any age limitation.
Even though The Hobbit will hit theaters a decade after The Lord of the Rings films, this reversed order wasn’t the case when it comes to the books. The first version of The Hobbit book was published in 1937, several years prior to the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
If The Hobbit films follow Tolkien’s text, there will be a lot of wizardry and a bit of burglary, a couple of quite violent conflicts, and plenty of puffing on pipe-weed. The Hobbit films are likely to provide foundations for fruitful family discussions about magic and morals, wealth and war, and more.
T&TO: The Hobbit is overwhelmingly favored by Christian groups, but some parents warn that kind of blanket endorsement is potentially harmful. Your thoughts?
Jones: Part of this favor in the Christian community stems from the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings originated within a Christian worldview. In fact, Tolkien took the very term “Middle-earth” from an Old English poem about Christ’s ascension! Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and God used Tolkien to bring C.S. Lewis to faith in Jesus Christ.
When asked about the religious perspective of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien described the trilogy as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
I would suggest that this is no less true of The Hobbit. Although the work is certainly no allegory—Tolkien despised allegories—the characters are deeply symbolic, representing humanity’s deep sense of exile as well as our struggle not to center our lives on the pursuit of earthly wealth or power.
Despite the origins of The Hobbit in a Christian worldview, I would agree that a blanket endorsement is undeserved—and I’d say the same about any other work of popular art and culture. Here’s why: Such endorsements can unintentionally provide parents with a false comfort, the idea that they can place this book or movie or digital download in front of their children without having to engage in critique or conversation about it.
Visit Dr. Jones online at: www.TimothyPaulJones.com.
Will you and/or your kids go see The Hobbit movie? It releases December 14th, this Friday.