Literary characters such as those found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit often reflects what is best in human nature or what Christians refer to as the divine stamp or imago Dei. This essay will examine Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf king, and Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, as a king and prophet respectively, similar to ones found in the Jewish Scriptures, as told by J.R.R. Tolkien in his book The Hobbit. Tolkien, an image-bearer and sub-creator, spent time crafting relatable and genuine characters. Thorin and Bilbo are bearers of the divine image and throughout the tale demonstrate this by using the gifts God gave them in communion with each other. As Tolkien argues, one of the virtues of fairy stories is “to hold communion with other living things.” Gandalf, a wizard of the Istari order, designed their meeting in a humble abode in the Shire, in order to accomplish an important task. Noted Tolkien scholar Bradley Birzer, wrote that Gandalf is “the archetypal prefiguration of a powerful Prophet or Patriarch, a seer who beholds a vision of the Kingdom beyond the understanding of men.” Gandalf perceived that as each individual has at least one gift from the creator Eru (or in New Testament language the Holy Spirit), so each of these characters, bearing the image of God, has a particular gift and role to play in bringing about the will of the divine creator of Middle-earth. Thorin is in many ways like the kings of Israel, and Bilbo is much like a prophet, and each is under the watchful eye of Gandalf, the Middle-earth version of an angelic guide. Joseph Campbell, a professor of comparative mythology, identifies two types of heroic acts including “a courageous act in battle . . . the other kind is spiritual . . . (which) learns to experience the supernormal range of human spiritual life.” Along with a troop of twelve other dwarves and Gandalf, Thorin and Bilbo set out on an adventure to reenter the dwarven paradisiacal homeland and discover the true meaning of bearing God’s image. Like several of the biblical kings of old, Thorin becomes a hero in the courageous act in battle sense, and the hobbit becomes a hero in the spiritual sense like the prophets of Israel.
Bilbo’s gifts are faith and prophecy as he demonstrates endurance and motivation when things become difficult. Also, he is able to speak the truth, a type of wisdom, which he has received from Gandalf — a representative of God — to the king. Thorin’s gift is knowledge, leadership, vision, and he is aware of everyone’s roles and capabilities. Bilbo executed his gifts by using his heart and emotional fortitude, that is compassion. The hobbit remembers the beauty of the Shire and reminds the king of his vision, a promised land flowing with gold and freedom. Thorin executed his gifts through the use of reason and decisiveness. Each showed courage and the ability to communicate with each other and come to joint decisions, for the most part. C. S. Lewis, a scholar and friend of Tolkien, identifies courage as foundational to a virtuous life, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”
Although there are several similarities between certain Israelite prophets and kings, such as the prophet Jonah and King David, the Middle-earth duo most strikingly parallel the story of the Prophet Haggai and King Zerubbabel. This prophet likely traveled with the king and the Jewish people out of exile from Babylon, toward the city of Jerusalem which lay in ruins. Like Bilbo, Haggai encouraged the people to be strong and “fear not” and carried a signet ring which he would give to the king as a sign of his rule (though in The Hobbit the Ring has a very different meaning). Likewise, the King Zerubbabel and Thorin have several interesting parallels in their histories and lives. Zerubbabel, like Thorin, is the grandson of the last active king in his homeland before their exile. They both had domestic issues when they arrived at their destination: destruction of the city and a dragon laying in wait respectively. Each had squabbles with local residents, as well. For example compare this verse from Ezra 4:3b, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God” and Thorin’s similar statement to Bard of Lake-town and the wood-elves, “To the treasure of my people no man has a claim, because Smaug who stole it from us also robbed him of life or home.” While the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple and the City of Jerusalem, the dragon had ruined the home of Thorin’s kin, the Lonely Mountain. Both kings initially desired to exclude certain people groups from the restoration of their homeland. In each case, the prophet encouraged the king to act righteously at the appropriate time.
Let us now consider in detail how Bilbo used his image-bearing gifts in the way of the various prophets and Thorin in the way of several kings in the Jewish Scriptures. Each character in the saga, as with each one of us, are made in God’s image. We have the potential to serve as priest, prophet, and king or queen, given to us at baptism. Aligning one’s will to the will of God, establishes an eternal relationship with the divine which culminates in union with God in the afterlife.
Prophet and King
The saga begins with the fifteen adventurers supping at Bilbo’s dwelling and discussing their collective vision as well as the purpose of the hobbit, calling him the burglar or “Expert Treasure-hunter.” It is important to note that this burglary was a reclamation of stolen property and land by a notorious creature, the dragon Smaug, and not an actual theft. As all good adventures ought, this one begins with song and merriment. This is reminiscent of the song of the Valar from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, where he writes “In this Music the World was begun; for Iluvatar made visible the song of the Ainur, and they beheld it was a light in the darkness.” Jonathan S. McIntosh, describing Tolkien’s world, notes that, “Music is the part of world-history containing the creation and consequent free choices of the ‘incarnate intelligences’ of Elves and Men.” Indeed the dwarves and company were continuing the song, for those who set their sights on evil do not sing such songs nor enjoy merriment of any kind. Tolkien writes, “As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands, and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves.” This recognition of appreciating beauty will serve Bilbo well as he gains confidence as a prophet. The giftedness of the dwarves was in the creation of things which continues the creative instinct of those who bear the image of God. This is an example of Tolkien’s sub-creation motif; Birzer explains that Tolkien thought that each person is a “subcreator made in the image of the true creator. God places each uniquely created individual in a certain time, in a certain place, and with certain gifts, for a certain reason.”
Not every dwarf believed in Bilbo, but Gandalf reminded them that he had called him out or chosen him for a grand purpose because of his remarkable gift as an image-bearer. In accepting his role, Bilbo took on a challenge of both a journey out into the world as well as an inner journey into his very soul. Gandalf articulates his decision to select Bilbo by proclaiming, “There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.” Bilbo would follow his heart, at times become the actual leader of the group, advise the king, and challenge him — thus fulfilling the role of prophet. Compare Bilbo here to the prophet Jonah who knew what he was called to do but was often reluctant and eventually entered Nineveh and convinced the king and the people to repent.
Thorin, for his part, articulated his vision of the venture, to seek out their fatherland where even the poorest “had money to spend and to lend, and leisure to make beautiful things, just for the fun of it, not to speak of the most marvelous and magical toys.” As a leader he had great vision and the respect of his fellow dwarves who saw him as both a reminder of their valiant past and hope for a bright future. Thorin, like King David, held his people together and desired to defeat whatever enemy was at his doorstep. This duo was participating in God’s grace through their collective effort as image-bearers who are using their gifts for the benefit of all. Participation in grace flows from God in the natural and ordinary way people operate, as Thomas Aquinas writes, it is “our intellect (which) knows some things naturally; thus the first principles of the intelligibles, whose intelligible conceptions-called interior words-naturally exist in the intellect and proceed from it.” Both image-bearers had a predisposition to the good, which flowed from reason, despite the fact that they occasionally succumbed to the bad. This is the traditional view of morality as Lewis discusses in his Discarded Image where he argues that “Moral imperatives therefore were uttered by Reason.”
The adventure to recover the lost treasure, protected by the dragon Smaug, is set in a wider story. To those who could read the signs of the times, a darkness was spreading throughout Middle-earth. Most of the troop was not aware of the significance of the return of the dragons and the spread of the goblins since the battle of the Mines of Moria. Gandalf “knew how evil and danger had grown and thriven in the Wild.” These goblins were “cruel, wicked, and bad hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make clever ones.” When the troop ventured into the goblins’ cavern in the Misty Mountains, they came upon those who held a “special grudge against Thorin’s people.” Called by Gandalf to use his ancient sword, Thorin was fulfilling his role as king and protector of his people, using his gifts of leadership and courage.
After getting separated from the group as they battled the goblins, Bilbo awoke in a dark and tight place deep beneath the mountain. Here he had a choice to sink into darkness or use his God-given gifts to emerge as a messenger of faith. As he crawled he discovered a “tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel.” He put the ring in his pocket not knowing its history nor the destiny of the magical object. Tolkien describes the hobbit here as one possessing “a fund of wisdom and wise sayings that men have mostly never heard or have forgotten long ago.” This cognitive ability coupled with wisdom would come in handy soon. He pressed forward with his sword in hand and some hope in his heart. Soon he would come across another creature who was the owner of this Ring for 478 years. This creature was Sméagol, better known as Gollum.
They met near the underground lake beneath the dark mountain. The only chance for Bilbo to escape this place and try to find his companions would be with the help of this creature. “Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost.” Here Bilbo’s true character of compassion or emotional-fortitude, a hallmark of imago Dei, emerged when a “sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment.” This Ring allowed him to outwit the formidable Gollum in a game of riddles, as if it was destined for Bilbo to not only find it but allow him to escape. The ability to wear this Ring without succumbing to its evils is a testament to his role as prophet.
The dwarves in the meantime were not out of danger. They were being pursued by the goblins from the mountain. Thorin had them hidden for a time. Bilbo happened upon them using his Ring to sneak in. Later the goblins chased them toward a cliff where the wizard, hobbit, and dwarves hid in the trees. The Lord of the Eagles of Misty Mountains noticed the troop from above and observed the wolves and goblins. Thanks to the handiwork of the wizard, they were able to set the trees on fire. While the frightened wizard Gandalf taunted the goblins, the eagles swooped down and rescued them. Courage, in the face of danger was the virtue which propelled them to safety.
It is here in the story that the role of prophet or guide was passed on to Bilbo by Gandalf, reminiscent of the prophet Elijah choosing Elisha as his successor. Like Elijah blessed Elisha, Gandalf blesses the hobbit saying, “There are no safe paths in this part of the world … land of the Necromancer … keep your spirits up, hope for the best, and with a tremendous slice of luck you may come out one day.” To the whole troop he bids them safe journey and farewell saying, “Good-bye! Be good, take care of yourselves – and DON’T LEAVE THE PATH!”
For a time the king-prophet duo of Thorin and Bilbo would need to work together without the aid of the wizard. Here is where Bilbo, the prophet-in-training, learns what it means to have more about him than others know. Thorin, aware of the roles and capabilities of his troop, does not seek advice from one of his fellow dwarves but from the new prophetic voice. Tolkien writes, “How far away do you think it is?” asked Thorin, for by now they knew Bilbo had the sharpest eyes among them.” The king and hobbit were definitely the leaders who relied on each other’s skill and abilities to trek through the forest. The duo used their gifts and talents together as image-bearers for a grand purpose. “‘Who’ll cross first?’ asked Bilbo. ‘I shall,’ said Thorin.” A peripatetic dialogue ensued between the two, serving them well until they reached the mountain and encountered the dragon. As they weaved their way through the forest the mood of one would shift from gloomy to hopeful while the other would experience the opposite. One would lift the spirit of the other.
Upon crossing an enchanted stream, the dwarf king, keeping true to his vision, “was the only one who had kept his feet and his wits.” Soon after they fell into despair. Though struggling along in gloominess, the troop was so close to their destination that “if they had kept up their courage and their hope, to thinner trees and places where the sunlight came again.” The hobbit-prophet had climbed a tree to see where they were; he did not have eyes to see their true location. Tolkien writes, “Actually, as I have told you, they were not far off the edge of the forest; and if Bilbo had had the sense to see it, the tree that he had climbed, though it was tall in itself, was standing near the bottom of a wide valley . . . he did not see this, and he climbed down full of despair.” The king, for his part, was beginning to lose his patience and was beginning to snap at those around him. The king’s irritation began to grow here due to the long journey. As happens in every adventure, unnatural actions including evil can consume an individual for a time, for “life is a spiritual warfare.” But as will be seen, “obedience and duty come down to knowing, trusting, and loving a person,” this is part of the duo’s integral connection of imago Dei.
Retreating as if to pray, as the prophet Elijah did in 1 Kings, Bilbo went to nap near a tree, “thinking of his far distant hobbit-hole with its beautiful pantries.” They were lost, despairing, and confused — their defenses were down, so danger took advantage. Since they had lost their vision, they walked right into spiderwebs. While trapped in the web, a great spider came at Bilbo, he drew out his sword and cut himself loose from the web “and stuck it with his sword right in the eyes.” Tolkien writes that, “Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder.” He called the sword Sting. This naming of the sword symbolizes his new found courage which begins the transformation of Bilbo becoming a spiritual hero and is an essential feature of imago Dei since only sentient beings name things. He fought off many spiders by throwing stones. Because of his newfound bravery, the dwarves saw a real hero begin to emerge in the hobbit. Even “Knowing the truth about the vanishing did not lessen their opinion of Bilbo at all; for they saw that he had some wits, as well as luck and a magic ring.”
During a battle with the spiders, their king was taken by the wood-elves unbeknownst to the others, and panic ensued. They had lost their path and their leader. Thorin, as it turns out, was meeting with the elf-king who wanted a share of the money the dragon was hoarding. Since love of money is the root of all evil and Thorin loved money, the dwarf king was not willing to part with any part of his treasure; thus he was imprisoned. Here the king did not rely on reason, forgot his vision of returning to his paradisiacal homeland, and was not showing hospitality. Like many of the kings of Israel, who were otherwise blessed by God, he succumbed to evil.
The rest of the dwarves were soon captured, and Bilbo followed them invisible with his Ring on. “I am like a burglar that can’t get away,” he said, “but must go on miserably burgling the same house day after day . . . I wish I was back in my hobbit-hole.” Tolkien tells us here that “if anything was to be done, it would have to be done by Mr. Baggins, alone and unaided.” Just as the king had sunken into despair, even to the point of giving up some of his potential wealth, Bilbo appeared. Tolkien writes, “Thorin was too wretched to be angry any longer at his misfortunes, and was even beginning to think of telling the king all about his treasure and his quest (which shows how low-spirited he had become), when he heard Bilbo’s little voice at his keyhole.” Bilbo relayed the message to the other captured dwarves that Thorin was also captured, but alive. Again, their spirits were lifted by the action and leadership of the hobbit and the patience of their king. Tolkien writes,
They all thought their own shares in the treasure . . . would suffer seriously if the Woodelves claimed part of it, and they all trusted Bilbo. Just what Gandalf had said would happen . . . Perhaps that was part of his reason for going off and leaving them.
The wizard needed to leave them to their own devices so that they would grow as a community or nation, flowing from the leadership of the king and hobbit.
Bilbo’s wisdom and courage enabled him to make quick decisions that saved the lives of the dwarves whom the wizard entrusted to him. Having the keys to the jail cells, Bilbo commands, “No time now! . . . you just follow me! We must all keep together and not risk getting separated.” Here is the strongest use of prophetic voice for Bilbo. At first the dwarves were uncertain about climbing into the barrels and being dumped over the waterfall. However, the king assumed his leadership role saying, “Upon my word! . . . Gandalf spoke true, as usual! A pretty fine burglar you make, it seems, when the time comes.”
As they sped on their way they caught a glimpse of their final destination. The “Mountain seemed to frown at him and threaten him as it drew ever nearer.” It was a perilous journey on the river, but soon they landed near Lake-town. Some of the dwarves were a bit moody about it. Using his prophetic gift of motivation, he reminded them of the king’s vision, as Tolkien relays,
Bilbo asking quite crossly, “are you alive or dead? … Are you still in prison, or are you free? If you want food, and if you want to go on with this silly adventure-it’s yours after all and not mine-you had better slap your arms and rub your legs and try to help me get the others out while there is still a chance.”
Tolkien tells us that “Thorin of course saw the sense of this.” Then Thorin congratulates Bilbo, “And I suppose we ought to thank our stars and Mr. Baggins. I am sure he has a right to expect it, though I wish he could have arranged a more comfortable journey.” Thorin greets the Master of the town, introducing himself as Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror King under the Mountain. The crowds sang songs both old and new. “Thorin looked and walked as if his kingdom was already regained and Smaug chopped up into little pieces,” as if walking in the presence of God. “Then, as he had said, the dwarves’ good feeling towards the little hobbit grew stronger every day.” Here Thorin and Bilbo show their partnership as king and prophet, melding together their calling, and using their gifts as an imago Dei duo most strongly.
In this part of the adventure, the moods of the group began to ebb and flow. From gloomy to hopeful and back to gloomy, again, the dwarves and Bilbo were continually at odds. This is a microcosm of living in a fallen world and mirrors the history of the nation of Israel who at times were in line with God’s purpose and at times were not. Even though all are created in the image of God and have gifts from the divine, the day to day life is not without its challenges. The prophet’s duty is keeping faith, and if that fails, then the team fails. The king’s duty is to hold on to the vision, for if he loses sight of that, then they lose their way. Bilbo thought, “It is always poor me that has to get them out of their difficulties, at least since the wizard left.” They found themselves at the secret door where the key hole appears at the last light of the sun on Durin’s Day. Because of the thrush, Bilbo was able to see the keyhole that everyone else thought was missed. ““The key! The key!” cried Bilbo. “Where is Thorin?” . . . Thorin stepped up and drew the key on its chain from round his neck.” The lot of them pushed the door open and entered the halls of the mountain. Thorin spoke, “Now is the time for our esteemed Mr. Baggins, who has proved himself a good companion on our long road, and a hobbit full of courage and resource far exceeding his size.” When the king remembers his role to provide leadership, holds on to the vision of the quest, and communicates with his hobbit-prophet, then things begin to go well.
Tolkien writes that “he was a very different hobbit from the one that had runout without a pocket-handkerchief from Bag-End long ago.” Here was the moment of his calling, to seek what was lost many years prior, to go and face a dragon, not as a knight but as a prophet seeking beauty from a fallen place. “It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did.” He dragged out a two-handled cup from the dragon’s lair. It was a momentous time for the dwarves to pass around a sample of the treasure. They heard the dragon awaken and they wanted to escape the mountain. The king then had to play his part deciding to stay and distract the dragon since two dwarves were outside defenseless tending to the ponies and supplies. ““Nonsense!” said Thorin, recovering his dignity. “We cannot leave them. Get inside Mr. Baggins and Balin.”” Knowledge and courage predominated the king’s thoughts at this moment.
The dragon came to hunt down the thieves who stole from him. Bilbo begged them to do something about the dragon but the dwarves were frightened of such a conundrum. The king nobly requested the advice of his prophet-hobbit by asking, “What then do you propose we should do, Mr. Baggins?” Bilbo responded, “Personally I have no hopes at all, and wish I was safe back at home.” However, knowing what needed to be done and in an act of faith, Bilbo volunteered to put on his Ring and go see what the dragon was up to. He said, “‘Every worm has his weak spot.’” Naturally the dwarves accepted the offer eagerly. “Now he had become the real leader in their adventure.” In Jewish Scriptures, the hierarchy of society is God then prophet then king. Bilbo here, reminiscent of Jonah the reluctant prophet, takes his role to the next level by taking to heart his call. True compassion is acting for the sake of others even when one does not feel like it. This is an example of living out one’s image of God.
Bilbo finds and speaks to Smaug, “I did not come for presents. I only wished to have a look at you and see if you were truly as great as tales say.” Bilbo notices a gap in the dragon’s armor that would serve as useful information. Thorin, Bilbo, and the others were discussing what the best strategy was in dealing with the dragon. “You are very gloomy, Mr. Baggins!” said Thorin. “We knew it would be a desperate venture,” said Thorin. Center on the king’s mind was the Arkenstone, the prize of dwarven kings. “But somehow, just when the dwarves were most despairing, Bilbo felt a strange lightening of the heart, as if a heavy weight had gone from under his waistcoat.” He said, “While there’s life there’s hope!” The search for treasure began by the team. “In desperation they agreed, and Thorin was the first to go forward by Bilbo’s side.” Tolkien reiterated that the dwarves proclaimed that “Mr. Baggins was still officially their expert burglar and investigator.” When the nation of Israel recognized and listened to God’s prophet, prosperity was not far behind.
Bilbo found and pocketed the Arkenstone, unsure if he wanted to reveal it to the king just yet. Deep in the cavern was panic as the dwarves gathered the treasure. Bilbo exclaimed, ““The light’s gone out! Someone come and find and help me!” For the moment his courage had failed altogether.” Thorin commanded however, “It seems we have got to go and help our burglar.” Watching the dwarves enjoy a bit too much their found treasure, “Mr. Baggins kept his head more clear of the bewitchment of the hoard than the dwarves did.” Note that the lights go out and bewitchment enters onto the scene, which then leads to love of money becoming dominant rather than brotherhood.
Again, a peripatetic dialogue between Bilbo and Thorin served them well as they sought the best strategy for getting past a watchful Smaug. Bilbo spoke to Thorin, “We are armed, but what good has any armour ever been before against Smaug the Dreadful? This treasure is not won back yet.” “You speak the truth!” answered Thorin, recovering his wits, “Let us go! I will guide you.” “‘Come, come!” said Thorin laughing-his spirits had begun to rise again, and he rattled the precious stones in his pockets … Don’t call my palace a nasty hole! You wait till it has been cleaned and redecorated!’ ‘That won’t be till Smaug’s dead,’ said Bilbo.” In this dialogue they come to an agreement about what needs to be done now and defines hope for the future.
Smaug was killed in Lake-town by Bard the Bowman. A wise raven informed Thorin to trust Bard and not the Master of the Lake-men. There was an attempted parley between Bard and Thorin, but the king was stubborn. Bilbo’s concern was justice, but Thorin’s was vengeance. Bilbo delivered the Arkenstone to Bard. Bilbo identifies the Arkenstone as the heart of the king, as well as of the mountain. At this moment Thorin’s heart was hardened and he did not act as one who bore the image of God. Gandalf had returned and remarked, “Well done! Mr. Baggins! … there is always more about you than anyone expects.” Bilbo returned to the mountain to be with the dwarves. Bard held aloft the Arkenstone of Thrain for Thorin to see. Bilbo admits to Thorin that he gave the Arkenstone away. Thorin threatened to toss Bilbo over the rocks” Gandalf appeared and asked for no harm to come to his burglar. Bilbo exclaimed that he took it as part of his fourteenth share. Thorin exclaims that he is betrayed by a traitor. “You are not making a very splendid figure as King under the Mountain,” said Gandalf. Often in the Jewish Scriptures, the king failed to listen to God’s prophet.
During this tumultuous time, there did not seem to be a solution to despair. Something dramatic would have to happen to bring everyone together. Suddenly they hear, “The Goblins are upon you!” Gandalf cried. Tolkien writes, “So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of the Five Armies … Goblins and the Wild Wolves … Elves and Men and Dwarves.” “Thorin wielded his axe with mighty strokes, and nothing seemed to harm him … Thorin drove right against the bodyguard of Bolg. But he could not pierce their ranks.” The Eagles came to help the team for the second time. Thorin’s courageous decision to engage in battle rather than hold up in his cavernous home, is his climatic arc in the saga. Like most of the kings of Israel, showing leadership on the battlefield is a hallmark of fulfilling God’s plan in establishing and defending the promised land.
Bilbo had been hit in the head during the fighting and was carried back to camp and went in to see Thorin who had suffered a fatal injury. King Thorin, like King David, both accomplished his God-given purpose but also sinned. In the end, however, he reconciled with one he sinned against.
“Farewell, good thief,” he said. “I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed.” “I wish to part in friendship with you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate.” The king, like David, confessed his sins and asked for forgiveness. “Bilbo knelt on one knee filled with sorrow. ‘Farewell, King under the Mountain!’ he said. ‘This is a bitter adventure, if it must end so; and not a mountain of gold can amend it.’” “I am glad that I have shared in your perils-that has been more than any Baggins deserves.” Thorin acknowledges that the prophet fulfilled his role, while Bilbo accepts his apology. “No!” said Thorin. “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure.”
It was time for Bilbo to return home. After the goodbyes he made sure to invite them to stop by at any time and reminded them that tea-time was 4:00 PM.
The duo of Thorin and Bilbo set out on an adventure along with a troop of twelve other dwarves and the wizard to reenter the dwarven paradisiacal homeland and discover the true meaning of bearing God’s image. Gandalf articulates his decision to select Bilbo by saying, “There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.”
Each human is created in the image and likeness of God. Every individual has the potential to act as priest, prophet, and king or queen. To do so requires one to align one’s will with God, as Bilbo and Thorin did in The Hobbit. Gandalf, an agent of the divine not unlike an angel of the Lord in the Jewish Scriptures, calls out Bilbo to go on a special mission. Like Jonah he reluctantly goes and finds that his soul is challenged and his body is battered by the experience. Like Haggai he is able to forge an alliance and partnership with the king to do what is right in the eyes of God. During his physical journey he also goes on an inner spiritual journey and uses his gifts of wisdom and faith to become a leader of the troop. Along the way he discovers a magic Ring that will one day lead to the destruction of an evil that is already growing in the land. Some of the prophetic motifs that play out in Bilbo’s story and prove his image-bearing nature include his emotional fortitude, reclamation of stolen property — that is — restoration, compassion, keen eyes, standing up to the king as Nathan did to David in 2 Samuel 2, and lifting other’s spirits even when his spirits were gloomy. Finally, he caused the ‘lights to go back on’ in the heart of Thorin, for as Bilbo exclaimed in prophetic fashion, “while there is life, there is hope!” The hobbit fulfilled Campbell’s definition of a spiritual hero.
Thorin, like King David, is a mighty and courageous warrior who protects his people and defends their honor. He also desires to build a kingdom. Like King Zerubbabel, he needs to overcome several obstacles including a devastated homeland and a fractious people. Thorin uses his gifts of knowledge to lead his people toward a specific goal with courage and fortitude. He also overcomes his lust for gold and the Arkenstone to find what it really means to be an image-bearer. Friendship, camaraderie, and righteousness are far more valuable than treasure. He discovers that a hobbit is as trustworthy and wise as a wizard. Some of the kingly motifs that are part of Thorin’s story include use of reason, laying out a purpose for their venture, seeking out the promised land, vision and understanding of their valiant path, protector and defender, seeking wise counsel, patience, recognizing others for their heroism, speaking to other leaders, displaying confidence, apologizing for misdeeds, and making amends. The king fulfilled Campbell’s definition of the courageous hero.
Birzer says that part of Tolkien’s legacy is his emphasis on using our gifts as persons created in God’s image, in the “service of the betterment of our selves, our community, our society, the Church, and, ultimately the world.” In other words, each person has a responsibility of using their gifts, not simply for developing their own ego, but in service to others. Thorin and Bilbo’s peripatetic dialectic approach to shared leadership is an example of the proper function of being an image-bearer. The team of dwarves could not have made it to Lonely Mountain without both their king’s gifts of knowledge and courage as well as Bilbo’s gifts of wisdom and faith. This realization speaks of a eucatastrophe, a neologism coined by Tolkien in his essay, On Fairy-stories to describe the literary device of the “happy ending.” In the end each character found his resting place. For Thorin this was dying a hero and his spirit traveling to lay with his fathers and for Bilbo, it was going home to enjoy beauty and rest from his adventures. By using one’s gift in service of others, that is recognizing that we are created in God’s image, “the journey of sanctification begins,” as Birzer notes. This is the true meaning of being image bearers. The restoration of the hobbit to the beauty of the Shire and the king to the beauty of not only his promised land but ultimately his heavenly home, is the penultimate meaning of life.
John L. Weitzel, “Thorin and Bilbo: Image Bearers,” An Unexpected Journal: Image Bearers 4, no. 1. (Spring 2021), 181-214.
Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com///thorin-and-bilbo-image-bearers/
For more on priest, prophet, and king roles in Tolkien’s work see Clyde S. Kilby, Tolkien and The Silmarillion (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1976) 55-56. Also see, Birzer, Sanctifying Myth, 69-70. Kilby admits that Tolkien did not intend to use this imagery but found it appealing when introduced by Professor Barry Gordon in a 1967 presentation.
Tolkien, The Hobbit, 241-242. Also, note the importance of sharing a meal together. Passover, showing hospitality (e.g. Gen. 18:4-5), Jesus feeding the thousands, and Last Supper/Eucharist are examples.
Jonathan S. McIntosh, The Flame Imperishable: Tolkien, St. Thomas, and the Metaphysics of Fairie (New York: Angelico Press, 2018) 60. See also his section on “Ainulindalë and the Musica Universalis,” 119-127.
See Ephesians 1:4-5, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. All scriptural texts are from the English Standard Version (ESV).