Finding God in The Hobbit by Jim Ware

Summary: Reflections on moral and religious themes in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy The Hobbit.

Review: I only made it to page 24 before I put this book down, so in many ways writing a review of it is unfair.  However, others considering reading the book may find my reasons for abandoning it so quickly helpful, so I will outline them here.

The foreward, written by Kurt Bruner (Ware’s coauthor of Finding God in The Lord of the Rings), does not bring the book to an auspicious start.  His writing is sloppy and his word choice questionable, causing him to come across as more ignorant than he probably is.  He is only beginning his second paragraph when he writes that The Hobbit “introduced the world to Middle-earth, magic rings, and nasty orcs” (ix).  The part about Middle-earth is true.  The part about orcs is technically true, but I have some quibbles about it and I believe many avid Tolkien fans will agree with me that Bruner has thoughtlessly glossed over some distinctions.*  But there is very clearly a long line of magic rings in literature—particularly rings of invisibility—that precede the publication of The Hobbit.  (In The History of the Hobbit: Mr. Baggins, John D. Rateliff cites magic rings in The Prose Edda, Platos’s Republic, and the story of Aladdin as some examples.) Perhaps Bruner is aware of this and never meant to claim Tolkien invented the concept of the magic ring, but unfortunately that is what his sentence says.

Bruner hurts his claim to authority further when in the very next paragraph he carelessly says, “Tolkien added words like Baggins and Balrog to our vocabulary.”  Adding someone’s name to one’s vocabulary is just awkwardly phrased.  Then, there are no balrogs in The Hobbit.  One could accept the fact that Bruner has stopped talking about The Hobbit to reflect on Tolkien in general at this point, but he and Ware make so great a habit of referring to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien’s letters, and a number of authors besides Tolkien that it becomes doubtful whether they did in fact find God in The Hobbit—or just everywhere else.

The best example (in the pages that I read) of Ware’s constant references to any book besides The Hobbit is the third chapter, “Doom of the Dunderheads.”  Ware opens the chapter, just as he did the previous two, with his revision of what happened in The Hobbit (more on this later.  Accept for now that he summarizes the plot.)  He reminds readers of the scene with the trolls.  He makes a general observation about “counterproductive stupidity” often being a trait of wicked characters.  Then, to prove that “evil is both foolish and self-destructive,” he quotes Scripture, Tolstoy, and Martin Luther.  He mentions the Grimm story of the Brave Little Tailor and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was involved with a plot to assassinate Hitler.  The chapter ends with a spiritual reflection: “We need not fear a power bent on self-destruction.”  Because each chapter is organized in a similar fashion, with only plot summaries and the quotes that are supposed to have inspired each reflection, it is difficult to believe that this book is really about The Hobbit.  My suspicions are that Ware may simply have wanted to cash in on the popularity of books on Tolkien.

Because Ware coauthored Finding God in The Lord of the Rings and he gives a nice account in his introduction to this book of how much Tolkien means to him, I want to believe he is a true fan and has a deep respect for Tolkien’s work.  Bruner raised my doubts as to the extent of his knowledge of Tolkien, and Ware is somewhat to blame for allowing doubtful content at the front of his book but cannot be held completely responsible for the things someone else says.  Unfortunately, Ware’s treatment of Tolkien’s material is not reassuring.  At the start of each chapter, Ware basically takes parts of The Hobbit and rewrites them.  He adds in lots of thoughts he thinks Bilbo had about his adventures, but he also simply takes scenes and rewrites them.  He puts quotes straight into the mouths of the trolls that are similar to what they say in The Hobbit—but just not the same.  For example:

‘Boil ‘em then,’ spat Tom, the third member of the troop.  ‘Boilin’s quicker.  Easier, too, for a couple o’ ninnyhammers like you!’

’Ninnyhammers, is it?’ shouted William, clenching his fists.

This sounds as if might have come from The Hobbit.  But it doesn’t.  If Ware wants to remind readers of the plot, he would do well with a summary.  Rewriting the book is, if not implied disrespect for the original text, very bizarre.  I really have no explanation for this.  I know only that I found it highly annoying.

Basically, this book looks as if it so were hastily thrown together that there is no real content .  Ware warns in his introduction that he might go off on a tangent, and he takes many opportunities to do so.  If you want a book about The Hobbit, this is not for you.  If you want a book about Tolkien’s religion, this is not for you.  Even if you just want a book with some good spiritual reflections, this is probably not for you.  Ware simply talks about so many things that he ends up talking about nothing at all.  So spend your money elsewhere.

*Orcs are in fact mentioned in The Hobbit.  There are a few scattered phrases mentioning their existence and describing them basically as larger and scarier goblins.  But the orc as we know it from The Lord of the Rings is not actually seen, and Bruner’s assertion that The Hobbit introduced the world to the race is essentially wrong.  The Hobbit introduced the word but not the concept.  The hasty references we do see have caused me to wonder whether they were even present in the first published edition of The Hobbit, or whether they were part of the minor changes Tolkien made to the book after the publication of The Lord of the Rings to make the works more consistent.  Note, however, that Tolkien did have the word “orc” at his disposal while writing The Hobbit (see The History of the Hobbit: Mr. Baggins by John D. Rateliff).

Published: 2006

A Few Books You Might Prefer:

The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings by Peter Kreeft

J. R. R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, & Religion by Richard Purtill

The History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff

2 thoughts on “Finding God in The Hobbit by Jim Ware

    • Briana says:

      I actually feel somewhat bad about this review (defintely the most negative one I’ve written, maybe even leaning toward vindictive), and every few weeks I sit back and think about whether I still agree with it. , Ultimately, I do. This review actually came after the second or third time I tried reading the book, and I was really pushing myself through it because I knew I wanted to write a review. I couldn’t finisn no matter how hard I tried. And several months of reflection has not convinced me this book had much of a purpose or shed any light onto why Ware did go and rewrite The Hobbit. I am still completely confused.


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