“Children are meant to grow up, and not to become Peter Pans. Not to lose innocence and wonder; but to proceed on the appointed journey […] on callow, lumpish and selfish youth peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death can bestow dignity, and even sometimes wisdom.” J.R.R Tolkien, On Fairy Stories (Tolkien, 1983)
Both Tolkien and Lewis wrote about characters going on great adventures into the “unknown world”, meeting new people, and returning to their “known world” different but wiser. (Campbell, 1968) But their similarities do not end there, with both sharing similar themes through their portrayal of the journeys. Both authors use journeys to share the stories of young characters thrust into a war they were not prepared for in unfamiliar terrain, fighting their way to return home, returning both wiser and with a new sense of purpose and bravery. Both books also use the journey to represent children growing into a metaphorical adolescence, facing the hardships of growing, and returning having matured and learnt important lessons. And finally both authors use the medium of the journey of their characters to foreground Christian values, and how redemption and forgiveness can be found in religion.
At the turn of the twentieth century, fantasy fiction as a children’s literature genre was on the rise. Some have claimed this is due to the increasing urban development and industrialisation of the world, which fits with Tolkien and Lewis’ visions, as The Hobbit is set in a fictional time period which feels like a fantasy medieval period, and the land of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (TLWW) is of a similar period, with swords instead of guns, no electricity, and a distinct separation between the fictional setting and the reader’s reality. The frequent use of fantasy during this time could also be seen as escapism, with The Hobbit, published in 1937 and TLWW published in 1945, both writers were creating worlds for children at a time when their own were shaped by war and forces out of their control. Fantasy fiction allowed them to escape for a time, into other people’s lives in a far off land with a predetermined happy ending, and gave them hope for their own. (Bailey, 2016)
“My dear Bilbo!” he said “Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.” J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit (Tolkien,1937)
Tolkien used his experiences of war to form his stories and their themes. If his The Lord of the Rings trilogy intended to show the “shadow of war” and its lingering destructive effects on the human soul, The Hobbit shows us the flip side; how something as terrible as war can bring out the best traits in people, foregrounding the “remarkable resilience” of the “little folk”. (Loconte, 2015) At the time of publication it had been over 20 years since World War I, and was only two years before the start of World War II. Children of the time would have been familiar with stories of war passed down from their parents. Tolkien’s approach was to both inform his young audience of the realities of war, while keeping a lighthearted tone and showing them that good will prevail and grow from their experiences. “Tolkien deals with the solemn and frightening things, but he still strives, through comical turns of phrase, to keep The Hobbit from becoming terrifying.” (Olsen, 2013)
In The Hobbit, Bilbo represents an innocent, naive young man, navigating through his mundane reality before he embarks on a journey, and finds himself in the midst of a war he is unprepared for. In the Battle of the Five Armies at the end of the book, Bilbo plays no real part in the battle, much like the children readers of the book. He was not the hero of the battle as Tolkien had been, on the frontlines of war, and Tolkien having first hand experience may not have wanted to glorify it for children. Bilbo has an experience similar to that of a child’s during the war, where his friends fight in the battle and Thorin is killed. Children too would likely have lost family members to the war. Bilbo does, however, confront Smaug, which Tolkein argued was “the bravest thing he ever did.”
Bilbo, who begins his journey as “plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End,” and shudders in fear at the thought of a dragon, learns courage and determination as he faces new challenges on his journey, and by the time he faces Smaug he is brave enough to face the dragon on his own. Though he did not fight the battle at the end, as Tolkein said, “He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone.” (Tolkien, 1937)
Through his portrayal of war, courage and bravery in The Hobbit, Tolkein educates children on the horror and reality of war and shows how war can change a person, but he also shows that life continues and with time they will move on from their experiences having grown as people. It could also be seen that Bilbo returning home to the idyllic Shire at the end of the book parallels the child refugees of the war, returning to their homes in the city, and while their homes may not have changed, they themselves have.
“Christendom has made two efforts to deal with the evil of war — chivalry and pacifism. Neither succeeded. But I doubt whether chivalry has such an unbroken record of failure as pacifism.” C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Lewis, 1970)
Unlike in The Hobbit, where the child surrogate character is shielded from the true horrors of war, the children in TLWW have a more harrowing journey, fighting on the frontlines for the freedom of Narnia at a young age, as Lewis himself did, arriving at the Somme Valley in France on his nineteenth birthday. In a letter to E.L. Mascal on the topic of a ‘Just War’, Lewis stated “If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful.” Lewis did believe that it was necessary in some cases for example as a last resort and if the ends are proportional to the means used. (Mosely, 2019)
The four siblings begin the book as ordinary children, sent to live in the countryside during the war, but though they begin their journey as young, naive children, spending their time playing “hide-and-seek” and reading, by the end they “bravely join the battle to free Narnia.” (Lewis, 1950) The children in this book begin as most children during war time, shielded from the war and danger and unable to help, but Lewis places them in a situation where they must learn and grow along their journey as they are placed at the heart of the action until they are victorious against the White Witch. At the start of World War II, Lewis attempted to re-enter the military, but his request was declined. This feeling of helplessness and the inability to protect his country may have been projected onto the children in TLWW, but he used the medium of fantasy to allow them to take part and fight in the way he wished he was able to.
“It’s a dangerous business…going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien, 1954)
At the beginning of The Hobbit, Bilbo is living a safe, comfortable life, shielded away from darkness in the world in the small town of Hobbiton. He begins his journey stubborn, closed-minded and child-like, as shown when Gandalf appears seeking someone to share an adventure “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.” The Hobbit can be seen as a classic bildungsroman, following Bilbo through his journey to maturity, if not physically then mentally. As Poveda points out, there are many similarities between hobbits and young children, as the depiction of hobbits speaks to “the child’s inclination to hide in small places…Their habits of eating six times a day, of going barefoot…” (Poveda, 2004) Children, much like Bilbo, like to hide and feel safe and secure, and this is something Bilbo is not willing to relinquish at the beginning of his journey. However, after overcoming challenges along his journey such as facing Stone-Trolls, and saving the Dwarves from the spiders, Bilbo gains a sense of courage and confidence he did not previously possess.
When encountering Gollum, Bilbo decides to spare him rather than kill him, feeling “a sudden understanding” and pity for him. Learning empathy as Bilbo does is a key point in his development, as stated by Batson et al, “Empathy is important for morality and prosociality.” (Batson et al., 1991) Following Bilbo through his journey and discovering the world as he does allows the reader to “connect with Bilbo’s movement from innocence to experience and from egocentricity to social awareness.” From a Jungian perspective, it is suggested that Bilbo’s journey is a metaphor for the “internal process of identity construction”, through his search for maturity and seeking to build and grow himself as a person on his adventure (Hunt, 2013). This idea is further reinforced by Tolkien, as upon Bilbo’s return he is shunned and has “lost his reputation”, with the other hobbits regarding him as “queer”. (Tolkien, 1937) The other hobbits have not had the same journey and experiences as Bilbo, and therefore have not matured in the same way he has and have remained young and naive. While he may not have grown physically, by the end of his journey he has matured into a well rounded, confident person.
“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children (Lewis, 2017)
While in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins grows only physically, the children in TLWW mature both mentally and physically. Beginning their journey as young children, and by the end they “grew and changed as the years passed over them.” Their change in physical appearance mirrors the change they go through mentally on their journey. At the start of TLWW the children are playing and acting as normal children would, but along their journey through Narnia they grow, learning courage, responsibility, and knowledge of life they did not previously possess. Their titles at the end of the book reflect this growth, with “Peter the Magnificent”, “Susan the Gentle”, “Edmund the Just” and “Lucy the Valiant”. (Lewis, 1950) The children have grown into these personality traits they have developed over the course of their journey through Narnia, becoming well rounded and responsible rulers. Though at the end of the book, the children return to their previous forms and are in children’s bodies once more, they have mentally grown and changed, and the child readers, having gone along their journey with them, will have learned and changed alongside them, being both innocent children and well versed in the adult world simultaneously.
“Faith is an ongoing adventure, not just a one time choice: “The road goes ever on and on” as Bilbo regularly reminded Frodo. Once we hear the knock on the door and step onto the road, there’s no turning back.” Sarah Arthur, Walking With Bilbo (Arthur, 2005)
Tolkein once stated that he “cordially dislike[d] allegory in all its manifestations,” and much preferred to use ‘applicability’ as he said “one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” (Tolkien, 1954) The Hobbit is a book which contains plenty of applicability, particularly when it comes to allusions to Christianity. This allows the inference to be made that Bilbo’s journey is a spiritual one. Making parallels between characters, Gandalf would be a substitute for Jesus, Bilbo and the dwarves being his disciples. Bilbo, much like a disciple, is chosen by Gandalf at the beginning of the story, as gandalf is searching for people to “share in an adventure” (Tolkien, 1937). In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you.” (John 15:16, The New King James Bible)
If we are following Joseph Campbell’s idea of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ then Bilbo’s call to adventure is a spiritual one. Upon embarking on the journey, Bilbo expresses his apologies as he has come without his hat, “and I have left my pocket-handkerchief behind, and I haven’t got any money.” Similarly, Jesus tells his disciples “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money”. (Luke 9:3, The New King James Bible) On his journey, Bilbo learns Christian values, such as forgiveness as he allows Gollum to live, and hope, as he tells the dwarves when they fear they are trapped “While there’s life there’s hope!” Bilbo finds a spiritual presence throughout his journey which gives him the courage to be brave and face his enemies and push on when his situation seemed dire: “when the dwarves were most despairing, Bilbo felt a strange lightening of the heart, as if a heavy weight had gone”. Bilbo goes on “An inward journey of the soul”, and the book as a whole can be read as having strong Christian morals at its core, as Thorin tells Bilbo, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” (Tolkien, 1937)
“The war against evil is the moral landscape of our mortal lives: a journey of souls degraded or redeemed, dragged into the Darkness of self or led into the Light of grace.” Joseph Loconte, A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, And A Great War (Loconte, 2015)
At the beginning of TLWW, Edmund renounces his siblings and works against Aslan, having given into the White Witch and in doing so, temptation. “Desire…gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15, The New King James Bible) Edmund’s sins give birth to death, as Aslan is killed, and, in dying, follows the ‘ransom’ theory of Christian repentance as Alsan frees Edmund from the bonds of his sins.
Though there are several direct parallels between Judas and Edmund, such as Judas receiving “30 pieces of silver” in return for betraying Jesus (Matthew 27:3, The New King James Version) similarly Edmund receives Turkish delight for betraying his siblings. However, whereas Judas Escariot feels so much remorse at his actions that he hangs himself (Matthew 27:1, The New King James Version), Edmund is allowed to live and his sins are forgiven, as Aslan states “There is no need to speak with Edmund about his past.” Lewis makes a conscious choice to differ Edmund’s journey from Judas’, and in doing so teaches his child readership of a more compassionate, forgiving God. Through Edmund’s journey to finding repentance, he can show the readers to hesitate before condemning others, and to both seek and give forgiveness.
When writing for children, authors may feel it is their duty to teach their young readership morals and life lessons, to educate them on the world they are to grow up in and equip them with the tools to adapt to an adult world. Both Lewis and Tolkien do this, though in differing ways through different narratives. Tolkien uses Bilbo’s journey to show his readers a new world, and through Bilbo’s eyes they may learn the confidence and knowledge that he gains on the way. While Lewis uses the children’s journey through Narnia to educate his readers on the hard realities of the world, while also showing that kindness, forgiveness and responsibility will allow them to transition into well rounded adults. Through navigating the journeys these authors set out for them, the child readers may find assistance in developing into well-rounded, maturity.
- Arthur, S. (2005). Walking with Bilbo. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
- Bailey, A. (2016). Fiction for children in the first 40 years of the 20th century. Retrieved 17 October 2019, from https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/fiction-for-children-in-the-first-40-years-of-the-20th-century
- Batson, C., Batson, J., Slingsby, J., Harrell, K., Peekna, H., & Todd, R. (1991). Empathic joy and the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 61(3). doi: 10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2063
- Brown, D. (2012). The Christian World of the Hobbit. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon.
- Campbell, J. (1968). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York: Pantheon Books.
- Drout, M. (2006). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. New York: Routledge.
- Hunt, P. (2013). J.R.R. Tolkien. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Lewis, C. (1950). The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. London: Geoffrey Bles.
- Lewis, C. (1970). God in the Dock. Michigan, U.S.: Eerdmans Publishing.
- Lewis, C. (2017). On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. U.S.: HarperOne.
- Livingston, M. (2006). The Shell-shocked Hobbit: The First World War and Tolkien ‘s Trauma of the Ring. Mythlore, [online] 25(1). Available at: https://dc.swosu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1290&context=mythlore [Accessed 17 Oct. 2019].
- Loconte, J. (2015). A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson.
- Mosely, A. (2019). Just War Theory | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 22 November 2019, from https://www.iep.utm.edu/justwar/
- Olsen, C. (2013). Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. New York: First Mariner Books.
- Poveda, J. (2004). Narrative models in Tolkien’s stories of middle-earth. Journal Of English Studies, 4(4). doi: 10.18172/jes.84
- Tolkien, J. (1937). The Hobbit. London: Allen & Unwin.
- Tolkien, J. (1954). The Fellowship of the Ring. London: Allen & Unwin.
- Tolkien, J. (1983). The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays. London: Allen & Unwin.