December 22, 2012


The film adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien classic, “The Hobbit,” has finally made it to the silver screen as a part one: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Running at two hours and forty-five minutes, it shouldn’t disappoint fans of the Middle-earth fantasy. “The Hobbit” is, of course, the prequel to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy of films: “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers,” and “The Return of the King.”

Gandalf the Grey (a wizard, played by the made-for-the-role Ian McKellen) invites the homebody hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (an impeccable, humble and nuanced performance by Martin Freeman), on an “adventure.” Baggins declines, but suddenly finds his hobbit hole filled with dwarves intent on a quest to win back their homeland which was taken over by the evil dragon Smaug (which the British actors pronounce very painfully: S-M-O-WWW-G). A hobbit is needed for the journey because the dragon (and assorted nefarious creatures they will meet along the way such as orcs and goblins and trolls, oh my!) isn’t used to the smell of hobbit, and being tiny, Bilbo will be able to slip around unnoticed. The “dwarf prince” doesn’t want Bilbo along, thinking he will be a burden because he is not a warrior. But Gandalf believes in Bilbo.

There are many, many action scenes and battles and one perilous predicament after another. However, the scenes are so carefully planned out, easy-to-follow, and truly interesting that our attention is held. This is not just generic swashbuckling and sword clashing. (There are many different kinds of swords in “The Hobbit.” Swords are a Big Deal.) The intense action scenes lead us from one stage of the journey to the next. We never know what our little band will encounter as they advance through diverse terrain.

At times, it almost seems that Tolkien has the mind of a child or an animator (where everything is alive, everything comes to life, even the mountains)! There is an amazing interplay of species, and animals/nature are either corralled for the service of evil or good.

There are two extremely long scenes that seemed to be smaller plot points than others: One where Bilbo tries to save the dwarves from being eaten by trolls, and the scene with Gollum and the ring in the cave. But the acting, dialogue and overall execution is so captivating, it didn’t really matter. The movie is long but never tedious.

Tolkien was a devout Catholic (and even helped translate the Jerusalem Bible), and his fantasies were really “the moral imagination” at play. Multitudes of readers have found deep purpose, hope and meaning for their lives in his yarns.

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.… There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth….” –J.R.R. Tolkien 

(Apparently it's from a published collection of Tolkien's letters:


--Man, those orcs are ugly. But the goblins are uglier.

--OK, so I just have to describe the ugliness of the goblin king. He had a beard, but it wasn’t hair, it was flesh! Like a huge goiter hanging down. Groddy to the max!

--When Gandalf was uncertain, afraid, whom did he turn to? Galadriel! “A strong man of God appreciates the strength of a woman of God.” –Pastor Rick Warren

--I feel so relieved. I was beginning to think I was a moral flibbertigibbet* because after reading The Hobbit 5 times as a teen and the Trilogy about 3 times, I just DID NOT GET THE LOTR FILMS. Like the Star Wars movies, I couldn’t get past the first film. I think my problem—for LOTR—had something to do with Elijah Wood. I felt like I was drowning in his doe eyes for the whole film. I’m sorry. It’s just the way I feel. BUT I redeemed myself to myself by loving, embracing, enjoying and UNDERSTANDING “The Hobbit”! Yay! Maybe I could venture to watch LOTR?

--The whole process of Gandalf-inviting –Bilbo-on-an-adventure is really a wonderful depiction of the unfolding of any vocation/calling. I’m SURE it will be used in the future for that!

--Impromptu songs! Feasting! Dancing! Storytelling! Legends! THIS is true, organic culture.

--Dragons really like gold. They even sleep in it.

--Trolls smell real bad. Too bad my theater didn’t have 4-D. :D

--MOUNTAIN trolls are “slow and stupid.”

--The mountain trolls look exactly the same as the troll in “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

--Great costumes! Great dwarf HAIR! Great sets!

--Accurate American Robin’s song.

--“Evil is always looking for a foothold in this world.” --Gandalf
--“The world is not in your books and maps. The world is out there.” --Gandalf
--“All good stories deserve embellishment.” –Gandalf
--Gandalf has all the good lines.

--The necromancer dude reminded me of “the culture of death.”

--“The dark reign has spread.”

--The birds start returning to the dwarves' mountain after the dwarves set out on the quest and have a few victories….

--This film is VERY WELL-LIT!!!!!!      I heart YOU, PETER JACKSON!!!!!!

--The Irish dwarf (actor James Nesbitt) was the Irish guy in “The Way.” I KNEW IT.

--The eagles at the end looked a lot like golden eagles, but they had white spots on their tails….

This is a photo of a  REAL golden eagle. All Instagram-ed or something.

--New Zeelind iz vewy pwitty.

--Holy flaming pinecones!!!

--Witchcraft makes animals sick.

--As a teen, I read everything I could get my hands on by Tolkien: “Farmer Giles of Ham,” “Smith of Wootton Major,” his Father Christmas letters. But when I got “The Silmarillion” for Christmas, I decided this was too much, it was going too far. I wanted to learn about REAL history/geography/personages before I delved into mythological history/geography/personages.

--I FIRST heard, yes, “heard” “The Hobbit” when I was about 9 years old and was being babysat by the teenage maids at HoJo’s Motor Lodge in Amherst, Massachusetts, where my father would attend summer classes at U Mass Amherst to be an Assessor, and we’d vacation at the Howard Johnson’s. (They had a great pool.) These teen maids were kind of bohemian and we’d sit on the floor of the laundry room, backs against the washing machines and they’d read to my brother and I. We LOVED the Sphinx-y riddle-contest between Gollum and Bilbo, and it was so thrilling to hear it in the movie again after all these years.

--Tolkien should have put more chicks in his stuff. Do not these dwarves have dwarf-wives--at least that they left behind on the homefront? No sightings. No mentions. (It's OK that there are no female orcs or goblins.) And yet, women really like LOTR, too. Maybe the women Tolkien DOES put in are so awesome and influential that we don't mind? Or maybe we didn't fully notice because we're so used to men's stories?

--I'm thinking of including "The Hobbit" in my canon of Important Theology of the Body films. Why? Because, like "Tree of Life" (THE primordial TOB film), "The Hobbit" links all of Creation/the Cosmos together. We ALL share in this drama. No one is unconnected.

*My friend, Deb Pavelek, even sat beside me for “The Fellowship of the Rings” and tried to explain all the deep metaphors, but it didn’t help.


  1. Two points:

    1) The British actors say "SMAH-OOG" (like "loud") because that's how Tolkien said to pronounce it. It's not "SMAWG" (like "smog"), the way we Americans tend to (incorrectly) pronounce it.

    2) Calling the "Riddles in the Dark" scene a "smaller plot point"!?!? It's THE pivotal scene of the movie, which sets all the rest of the LOTR (and following Hobbit films) in motion! It's also the best scene in the movie - one of the most perfectly executed scenes I've ever watched. SOMEBODY finally give Andy Serkis his Oscar!

    That said (by the person who went to see The Hobbit with an equally-rabid Tolkien fan who is also an FCJ Sister):

    1) Love the connection with the Necromancer and the Culture of Death. I think Tolkien would agree. Gandalf's speech to Frodo in LOTR about not being too willing to deal out death in judgment, and the connection he makes to the pity of Bilbo (as shown in The Hobbit), is, in contrast, the Culture of Life: Bilbo's small act mercy saves the lives of the peoples of Middle-earth. It is a conformation with and participation in the mercy of Christ.

    2) I strongly support and will continue to support the use of LOTR (and now The Hobbit), both in book and film form, as a resource for vocations groups. I also liked this young Jesuit's connection to the Call of the King meditation from the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises:

    'Readers familiar with the St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises may recall the exercise entitled “The Call of the King,” from the beginning of the Second Week, while viewing Balin (the second-in-command Dwarf) tell the story of how he comes to follow Thorin: “…there is one I could follow…and one I could call king.”' (

    And agreed: the lighting was AMAZING.

    (Btw, I found your blog today through a Skype call with Shana Smith. I hadn't realised you were the sister who supported her artistic work. Thanks, from a fellow Catholic artist interested in consecrated life!:-))


  2. Ha ha! Thanks for your insights, Cole! You LOTR ring-heads are the best! 1) it just makes me laugh to hear the way they pronounce Smaug... 2) Apologies.
    1) Yesssss. Mercy underlies LOTR... 2) Beautiful! I wanna read Joseph Pearce's book on the "secret meaning of the Hobbit..." Shana is such a talented artist! Did she get that fellowship thing to Florence? I hope so! She and I are Theology of the Body-heads, er, bodies. Blessed 2013!

  3. Shana did get the fellowship to Florence! She's in NYC right now, going to the visa office on Thurs to get her student visa. Please pray that she gets it with no difficulties - apparently Italian visa agents can throw up unexpected roadblocks!

    Btw, I'm also in the same PhD program as Sarah Maple - the Institute for Theology, Imagination & the Arts at St Andrews. (I'm doing my dissertation on the ethics of the artist-audience relationship in the theatre, and the Eucharist as a model for building communion [e.g., the necessity of vertical communion for horizontal communion].)

    Hey, if you send me your e-mail (I'm ccematson AT gmail DOT com), I'll send you information on the project for artists interested in consecrated life that Shana and I have been discussing!

  4. The movie wasn't bad -- much better than the egregious character assassination in the LOTR films -- but it has several problems. As said in the comments, the scene between Bilbo and Gollum was excellent, and is pivotal for the entire larger storyline of the four books.

    Small point, I suppose, but among the many inaccuracies in the Hobbit film is the implication that orcs and goblins are two different sorts of creatures. Tolkien makes clear that "goblin" is just a colloquial common name for "orc". Because this was originally a children's story, he used "goblin" in all but one place to describe them, but they are not two difference species.

  5. Dear AmeriCeltCatholic,

    Thanks for clarification!I was a big confused by that in the film (orcs/goblins). Do u think film separated them? Also just read that Jackson used supplementary Tolkien's Hobbit backstory material to augment Hobbit story (that's also how they can get 3 movies out of it). Do you agree with this move?
    Thank you!

  6. Just one correction. J. R. R. Tolkien helped to translate the original Jerusalem Bible from 1966 not the New Jerusalem Bible of 1985.

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