The Bible and The Hobbit

In a particularly interesting letter to Michael Straight, Tolkien states that the essential story of the Lord of the Rings is “to be ‘hobbito-centric’, that is, primarily a study of the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble.”[1] Now, even though in the same letter Tolkien points out that “there is no ‘allegory’, moral, political, or contemporary in the work at all”[2], there is “applicability”[3] – and applicability can surely be in connection with his faith since “as a Christian he could not place [his] view in a cosmos without the God that he worshipped.”[4] Indeed, there is a specific group of people found in the scriptures who have certain similar qualities to this ‘hobbito-centric’ view: the Anawim!
In Ancient Israel, groups of people who were on the margins of society, such as the widow, the orphan, the physically challenged, the barren, the prisoner or even women in general were considered to be on the margins of society as they not only lacked socio-economic independence but also, at times, they were thought to be forgotten by God himself. Nonetheless, something typical of the Scriptures, those who are found on the fringes of society are brought into the centre: these anawim form that central group of Yahweh’s poor (cf. Ps 145,7-9). In this way, “the Hebraic term anawim has the extended meaning of those who understand themselves to be poor, afflicted, humble or gentle before God.”[5]

Thus, this poverty and side-lining is an indication of an interior disposition being humble and faithful to the Lord and is a concrete application of hoping in the Lord. In turn, “the Lord, far from forgetting them, truly cares for them and has compassion for them (see Is 49,13).”[6] The scriptures are replete with examples concerning this type of group. For instance, in the beginning of the Elijah cycle, rather to someone within the community of the ‘children of Israel’, Elijah (1 Kings 17) was sent to a widow who lived outside the territory of the Jews (to Zarephath) and who did not even worship Yahweh (as in the region of Sidon Baal was worshipped). It was here that the miracle of the jar of meal and of oil happened (1 Kings 17,14-16) and it was here that the widow’s son was brought back to life (1 Kings 17,17-24). Moreover, we can mention Moses the stutterer, Ehud the left-handed, Jeremiah the child, as well as the story of Esther where a woman from a lowly position among a lowly people thwarted the destruction of her people.

In the NT, we also find countless examples as “the anawim are considered to be the true heirs of the kingdom.”[7] Indeed, we find Elizabeth and Zechariah, who although ‘righteous before God’ (Lk 1,6) did not have children; Mary herself, a virgin in the region of Galilee – a region thought forgotten by God (‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’; Jn 1,46); the Shepherds taking care of the sheep at night (Lk 2,8); the Samaritan leper who was cured (Lk 16,11-19); Zacchaeus, the short chief tax collector looking for Jesus (Lk 19,1-9) and countless others. We can easily see that that which connects these people is not their strength, their power, their authority, their riches but rather their poverty, their marginality, and most of all their hope in the Lord, which in turn, ennobles and sanctifies them – and this is not so different than the Hobbits themselves. Tolkien once said about himself that “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size)”[8]; and I believe that he was a Hobbit not simply in concerning the manner of how he lived his life nor he likes and dislikes but rather – and more importantly – due to a fundamental underlying belief which imbued his life: “very much in the style of the God he believes in, Tolkien raises up the lowly to put down the lordly”[9] because ‘whenever I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Cor 12,10) since ‘God’s weakness is stronger than human strength’ (1 Cor 1,25).

We too, then, are called to live like Hobbits – to realise that salvation does not depend on me, to realise that the marginal have an important place, to realise that an attitude like humility is fundamental not only because even the greatest of men and women falter but also because our strength, power and wealth are only a passing daydream and unless we are lowly and rejoice in being considered among the anawim hoping and trusting in the Lord who saves, we will end up like Sauron or Saruman.


[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, “Letter 181”, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (ed. H. Carpenter) (Great Britain 2006) 237.
[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, “Letter 181”, 232.
[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, “Letter 202”, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (ed. H. Carpenter) (Great Britain 2006) 262.
[4] H. Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkein. A Biography (Great Britian 2002) 128.
[5] J. Schembri, “Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. 11 November 2012”, Intercom. A Pastoral and Liturgical Resource (ed. F. Cousins) (Maynooth, Ireland Vol 42/9 2012) 39.
[6] J. Schembri, “Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time”, 39.
[7] J. Schembri, “Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time”, 39.
[8] J.R.R. Tolkien, “Letter 213”, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (ed. H. Carpenter) (Great Britain 2006) 288.
[9] P. J. Kreeft,  The Philosophy of Tolkien. The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (San Francisco 2005) 213.

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