Christian Living


The Hobbit's Sir Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman Talk Tolkien, Faith and Bilbo's Story

CBN.com - Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson brings Bilbo Baggins' story to the big screen with the upcoming release of the prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey welcomes back Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey, and introduces to Middle Earth actors Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman in the lead roles of the dwarf prince, Thorin, and young Bilbo, respectively.

The first installment in a three-part series, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the start of Frodo's uncle's adventure with Gandalf and a company of 13 dwarves, lead by Thorin Oakenshield. It's a lively story full of humor and danger, as the band travels across Middle Earth to reclaim the dwarves' inheritance.

Jackson's widely popular films are based on the original text written by J.R.R. Tolkien, a 20th century novelist, professor and man of devout faith. Tolkien, in fact, was integral in the conversion of confirmed atheist C.S. Lewis to Christianity.

When Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring was first published in 1954, poet W.H. Auden gave his critique of this continuing story set in Middle Earth and about its prequel, aptly named The Hobbit. Auden called Tolkien's work "one of the best children's stories of this century."

In his New York Times review, Auden sums up the relevance of Tolkien's work this way:

If one is to take a tale of this kind seriously, one must feel that, however superficially unlike the world we live in its characters and events may be, it nevertheless holds up the mirror to the only nature we know, our own; in this, too, Mr. Tolkien has succeeded superbly, and what happened in the year of the Shire 1418 in the Third Age of Middle Earth is not only fascinating in A. D. 1954 but also a warning and an inspiration. (Read Auden's New York Times review.)

With Auden's quote ("[The Hobbit] holds up the mirror to the only nature we know, our own") in mind, McKellen, Armitage and Freeman share what they think Tolkien says about humanity through Bilbo's story.

"One of the things that I really find when I look at that book is I can get a sense of Tolkien's Catholicism, his kind of Christianity and not necessarily in a denominational way, but just in terms of his chivalric view of the world, his nobility which is expressed through kindness and mercy," says Armitage (Thorin). "I think that pervades all of his writing. It's almost in all of his characters; and I find that inspiring."

Freeman, who embodies Bilbo in Jackson's cinematic version of The Hobbit, examines Tolkien's view of human nature from his character's perspective.

"It seems like the classic tale of a small guy who ends up being a hero against his will," he says. "That's what is always said is true heroism is when deeds of bravery are done when you are scared. Because if you're not scared, then you're not being brave. Then you're just being normal. But if you are scared, and you do something anyway, then that's real bravery. I think that's encapsulated in this…. [Bilbo]'s literally a small guy who's thrust out into a huge world who manages to do the right thing most of the time…. It's not a lesson, it's not a lecture to us, but there are interesting things to be drawn from that as a reader, and hopefully as a viewer."

For Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), The Hobbit shows Tolkien's admiration for the young and old, and the little guy.

"He takes old people very seriously and gives them their full weight and due," McKellen says. "Young people, he's very key on."

The message that has resonated with everyone who's read the books or seen the films is that, yes, [Bilbo's] world is organized by people who are extremely powerful and have an overview and are concerned for the preservation of Middle-Earth, but they are entirely dependent on the little guy."

Speaking of Tolkien, McKellen goes on to say, "For someone to have been through two World Wars to accept that, that it's not the great people we build statues to that the world's changed, it's the foot soldiers who measure up to the moment. We can all understand that because that's the level we are all at, really."

J.R.R. Tolkien's faith permeated his work, starting with The Hobbit. Bilbo's adventure is more than just a fictional children's story about hobbits, wizards, trolls and goblins. This fantasy shines a light on the evil and good in human nature – greed, suspicion, bravery and loyalty. Thankfully, that's not at all lost on the cast personifying Tolkien's beloved Middle Earth characters.

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