What are the Catholic themes in The Hobbit? Seeing how Tolkien was a big Catholic and integrated a lot of Catholic themes into The Lord of the Rings, I’m sort of suspecting that The Hobbit has some themes in it as well. I’m sure there is some Catholic symbolism that I’m just not noticing.
I have found that, if one has a good Catholic grounding and outlook, one can often find “Catholic themes” in many things that are not even by Catholic authors.
Just a thought.
Here’s a website with 20 ways “The Lord of the Rings” is both Christian and Catholic.
One can identify Catholic themes and motifs, however; Tolkein does not like allegoy and his books were written to form a mythology, not in any way related to his Catholic Faith.
Not exactly true. While The Hobbit was written almost purely as a children’s story, without conscious thought of Catholic themes, The Lord of the Rings had some very specific Catholic themes written into it. When Tolkien was doing the re-writes, he looked specifically to sharpen the focus on those themes. As you stated, he was not writing allegorically, but he DID purposely include Catholic themes in LotR.
He also purposely include other themes from other mythologies.
If you look in the reconstruction of the letter he wrote to Milton Waldmann,
*Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing its ‘faerie’ is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. For another and more important thing: it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion.
For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), *but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary 'real' world.* (I am speaking, of course, of our present situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. And I will not repeat what I tried to say in my essay, which you read.)*
I wonder if it is more a case similar to CS Lewis’ explanation. Poorly paraphrasing, something along the lines of him not setting out to right Christian fiction, but more his Christianity ‘pouring out’ into his writing. I guess if you think Poe was a macabre man, it would make sense for his writing to be macabre. Since Tolkien was Catholic, it would make sense for his writing to contain Catholic elements, whether intentional or not.
I think we agree. Tolkien did not write allegorically, but he did include Catholic-specific themes, at least in LotR. If there were any in The Hobbit, they were as a result of his living a Catholic life and writing as a Catholic, but the Hobbit, as a story, was not specifically a Catholic story. For LotR, I know he did not set out to write a purely Catholic story; and LotR is NOT a purely Catholic story. There are many other elements that are NOT Catholic, but which do add to the richness of the story.
I’ve recently “discovered” The Letters of JRR Tolkien; I have it on my wish list and hope to receive it soon.
Just commenting so I can find this again later… carry on…
I find that the following quotes are the key to understanding Tolkien’s work.
As to the identity of the various fantasy races in LOTR, I’m quoting Tolkien as below:
- The Hobbits
“I am in fact a Hobbit, in all but size.” JRR Tolkien
“The Hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imagination.” JRR Tolkien
Conclusion: The Hobbits are British
- The Dwarves
“The dwarves of course are quite obviously - wouldn’t you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic.” JRR Tolkien
Conclusion: The Dwarves are Jewish
- The Elves
The elven languages are constructed after Welsh and Finnish.
Conclusion: The Elves are likely to be Northern Europeans
Concerning the Orcs: (What he said was quite disturbing!)
(The Orcs are) "“sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types”
Conclusion: Orcs are Mongol-type people, mostly likely the Muslim Turks due to their geographical location and history of their battles with the Europeans.
The following is my own interpretation. You will find other variations on the internet.
In contrast to Lord of the Rings which is based on history, I find that the influence of the Hobbit is mostly Biblical.
- The twelve dwarves represent the twelve tribes of Israel (Or the twelve disciples of Jesus)
- Thorin Oakenshield may represent Moses, Jacob(Israel) or Jesus
- They escaped from the Realm of the Elven King, which might represent Moses leading the Exodus from Egypt.
- They arrived at the Mount Erebor which was guarded by the dragon Smaug to find the Arkenstone. This might represent the Israelites arriving at Mount Sinai and had to overcome temptation by the Devil to find the Ark of the Covenant.
In modern allegory, this might represent the Jews returning home to Palestine.
In modern allegory the Battle of Five Armies may represent the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
Note this is just my interpretation.
Bilbo = the British
Gandalf = Pope and Roman Catholic Church
Eagles = the Americans
Thorin & the Dwarves = Israelis
Erebor = Palestine
Arkenstone = Jerusalem and the Temple Mount
Thranduil & the Wood Elves of Mirkwood = Europe
Bard & Men of the Long Lake = Jordan
Goblins, Orcs & Wargs = Muslim Countries
Plot: Thorin and the Dwarves escaped from the Wood Elves (= The Jews left Europe)
Thorin and the Dwarves arrived at Erebor (= The Jews return to Palestine and found Israel)
Bilbo secretly took the Arkenstone and gave it to Thranduil & Bard (= The British gave Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to the Jordanians)
Bilbo was expelled from Erebor (= The British left Palestine).
The Battle of Five Armies then ensued (= Arab-Israeli war)
This is interesting.
I recall the first time I read the LOTR trilogy and, knowing the historical time frame(s) in which it was written I felt that I saw certain correlations between the events in middle earth and the events of WW II. You see, I was a WW II history buff.
Can’t say that I necessarily saw it to the extent and detail that you have above (in The Hobbit), but perhaps these kinds of connections give us insights to the factors that might effect and author - - as well as indicating the sorts of things that we as the reader might bring to it.
Just a thought
In addition to the modern allegory above:
Beorn = The Russians
However, in The Hobbit, he fights on the side of the Dwarves (Israelis).
Regarding the Arkenstone (= Jerusalem and the Temple Mount),
Bilbo gave it to Thranduil (= The British gave Jerusalem to the Europeans to be made an international city).
I don’t know if I specifically noticed any “Catholic” themes. Gandalf seems like a parallel to angels.
But…does anyone else besides me think of the Dwarves paralleling the Israelites?
Dwarves are Jewish because:
- They are shorter than the average Europeans:
- They love gold more than any thing else.
- They are highly aggressive.
- They have great big beards and large hook noses.
- Until they resettled in Palestine, they were scattered around the world and had no homeland to go back to.
Problem with that, is that it makes JRRT a prophet, in that the Hobbit was published in 1937, before the Arab-Israeli conflicts, and before Israel existed in its modern form.
Tolkien would have objected to goblins and orcs being any group of people because they were an evil race, and while he couldn’t resolve it with his Catholic faith (as it violated Free Will) he never changed it.
Will Tolkien geek for food. Or fun.
“Do Balrogs wear fluffy slippers?”
As was mentioned early in this thread, and I have noted in another thread, Tolkien did not intend an allegorical, one-to-one correspondence between the events and characters in LOTR and actual world history. He says so in the intro to the Fellowship of the Ring.
Catholic themes, yes. Exact parallels, no.
Eventhough, the Hobbit was published in 1937 and the Arab-Israeli wars only started in 1948, it was pretty obvious that he intended to portray the Jews in the Hobbit (from what he said.) However, he didn’t get everything exactly right, for example Beorn as above, but he was pretty close.