The Hobbit And The Dragon, Or Playing With Fire


Some time ago, I re-read The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. At one point our hero, Bilbo Baggins, confronts the dragon (Smaug) in his lair beneath the Lonely Mountain.

After having successfully made off with a gold cup during his first foray into the tunnels, Bilbo returns, hoping to learn something useful about Smaug. He strokes the monstrous creature’s ego, plies him with questions, and learns some very useful information. However, Bilbo’s successes make him careless. He takes a parting shot, taunting the dragon about not being able to catch him (at the time he is wearing the ring that makes him invisible).

The jab infuriates Smaug, and he goes after the hobbit based on sound and smell. Bilbo is severely singed and barely escapes with his life. What’s more, the dragon goes after the place he believes Bilbo usd as an entrance into the mountain tunnels. He is right and seals Bilbo and his companions inside.

All because Bilbo got a little cocky from his successes.

Bilbo and SmaugSomething else came from the hobbit’s engagement with the dragon. Smaug planted a few seeds of doubt in Bilbo’s mind. Would his companions—gold-loving dwarfs—really divide Smaug’s treasure with him as they promised? And if so, how was he going to cart that treasure all the way back home when the journey to the Lonely Mountain had been so hard?

Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug isn’t so different from a real person’s encounter with the enemy of our souls.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to reason with Satan. We’re told to flee, resist, stand firm, but never to parlay.

Even Jesus, in the three particular temptations the Bible records, fought Satan with Scripture. He didn’t explain why He wasn’t going to turn stones into bread or jump from the pinnacle of the temple. Rather, He stated what God had said, and He stuck to it. Far from gloating when He’d bested Satan, He spent time in the company of angels afterward, recovering from the ordeal, perhaps, or preparing for the next encounter.

Too often in my experience, when I see a spiritual victory, I think, One down, one less to worry about. At that point, I’m just like Bilbo taunting Smaug. How much wiser to look for the nearest company of angels. And falling short of that, to find a fellow believer or time alone in God’s Word.

The point is, spiritual victories feel like a “high,” but in reality they create some of the most vulnerable moments in our spiritual walk. They might tempt us to pride, to relax our guard, to listen to the suggestions the enemy slipped in during the encounter.

When we are weak, then we are strong, Scripture says, but too often we operate as if we are strong when we are strong. We bested a temptation, responded in faith, trusted God in spite of what Satan threw against us, and we think it’s over, that we’ve come out on top. The unpleasant news is, there is no “on top” until Satan is put away for good or until we enter into God’s presence for good. Until that time, we’re in a war, and one battle doesn’t mean Satan is waving the white flag. He’s not. He’s a hungry lion (or dragon), and we are his prey.

Bilbo made a costly mistake, one that we can so easily make too unless we keep the armor God gave us firmly in place.

This article is a revised version of the original that appeared here in January, 2013.

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Published in: on January 29, 2019 at 5:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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#FantasyFunMonth


FantasyFunMonth Intro
It’s been a long time since I’ve written about fantasy, a topic close to my heart. A couple of writer friends, Jill Williamson (The Blood Of Kings trilogy) and Patrick Carr (The Staff And Sword trilogy), have designated March, Fantasy Fun Month. They developed a calendar of questions/topics for fantasy readers to answer/discuss. To make it easier for other fans to find our posts on social media, we’re using the hashtag #FantasyFunMonth.

Well, of course I came late to the party, but I thought maybe I’d do a little catch up today. So here are the questions I missed:

1. Fantasy Currently Reading

I have to admit I haven’t done a great deal of reading lately (football—including Peyton Manning’s retirement press conference, political debates, last season of Downton Abbey, and STUFF), but the book I’ve begun is Oath Of The Brotherhood by E. E. Laureeano—which I won, by the way. In fact I won the entire Song of Seare trilogy in a drawing. Very cool!

2. Fave Fantasy Series

This one is easy—Lord Of The Rings, hands down. It’s the story that hooked me on fantasy, so even though I’ve read any number of other good fantasies, this one remains at the top of my list.

3. Fave Fantasy Quote

I’m not great on remembering memorable lines. Probably my favorite scene is from Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis. The Pevensie children have returned to Narnia, but a thousand years have passed there and things are quite different. While the others are asleep, Lucy sees Aslan. He reproves her for not following him earlier, even though the others chose to go a different way. It’s a wonderful scene about trust and stepping out in faith.

But the quote I’ll use here is from the beginning of Lucy’s first conversation with Aslan:

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

4. Favorite Fantasy Hero(ine)
My favorite character is probably Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I loved him so much after reading the book that I was quite disappointed to learn that he would not be the main character of The Fellowship Of The Rings, first in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. In fact, I took quite a while warming up to Frodo. I was a little jealous that he’d taken Bilbo’s spotlight. And for a while, I held out the hope that Bilbo would in fact join the quest and would again take center stage. When he didn’t, I gradually warmed up to Frodo, but I don’t think I ever felt as invested in him as I did in Bilbo.

For numbers 5 and 7, I refer you to my post at Speculative Faith today in which I revealed my favorite book cover and my favorite sidekick. Which leaves us only with yesterday’s topic.

6. Fave Fantasy Map

glipwood-map1I love, love, love fantasy maps. I scour them before reading a word and refer to them often. I love having a sense of place. In fact, when I started The Lore Of Efrathah, I started with a dream and a map. To this day, I have to say that the map of Efrathah is my favorite, but it’s not public, so I don’t think it counts. So I have picked Tolkien’s map because that’s where I learned to love maps. It’s not the fault of all the other fantasy writers that I didn’t first see their maps.

Perhaps the maps I’ve enjoyed the most of late are those in Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga. Here’s one of the more illustrative type.

So now we’re caught up. I’ll be posting my answers to the rest of the Fantasy Fun topics on Facebook, of course using the hashtag #FantasyFunMonth. Hope you follow along, or even better, jump in and join us. Here’s the calendar.

FantasyFunMonth_calendar

Bilbo’s Ring


The_One_True_RingI finished The Hobbit last night, so you can give a sigh of relief–my fantasy/Bible analogy posts will likely taper off now. 😉

Towards the end of the book I was reminded of a reaction I had to The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, the first time I read it. For one thing, I was disappointed that Bilbo was only a secondary character. As significant, I didn’t like that the Ring was evil.

In The Hobbit the Ring gave Bilbo a decided advantage over his enemies. He used it to escape goblins, to lure the spiders away from the captive dwarfs, to get his friends out of the elvenking’s dungeon, to sneak into the dragon’s lair, and to stay alive during the War of Five Armies.

The Ring’s main property was to make Bilbo invisible, and he used it as often as needed, which you can see, was pretty often. With the edge it gave him, he did heroic, selfless deeds. He appeared courageous and wise to the dwarfs with whom he shared his adventure.

How, then, could Tolkien turn something so good, so ennobling into something dangerous, destructive, and evil?

I remember time and again, as I read The Fellowship of the Ring, thinking Frodo should use the Ring even though Gandalf told him above all to avoid putting it on.

I liked the Ring and the power it gave Bilbo.

For Frodo, though, the Ring was a burden, a danger. It exposed him to the evil lord, it became an obsession, it weighed him down, and in the end, it mastered him.

How could the same object be so different in the two books?

By the time I reached the end of the third book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Return of the King, I had forgotten my initial thoughts about the Ring. I saw it as a metaphor for sin and Frodo as a type of Christ–one of several in the books.

Sin, after all, is a lure, a destructive power that only The Sin-Bearer could carry away–in the same way that the scapegoat carried away the sins of the nation Israel once a year. Only our Sin Bearer did so once for all.

But I was reading The Hobbit, remember. And this time, I’m aware that the Ring, though giving an advantage to Bilbo, will be the pivotal object for all of Middle Earth. I’m reading, watching for any hint of what is to come. And there is none.

Bilbo had no clue that the Ring had any adverse effects. Out of his ignorance, he used it at will. None of the dwarfs, nor the wizard Gandalf, showed any sign that Bilbo might be onto something that could harm him.

And then it hit me–that’s also like sin. Generally sin is attractive–it’s the tasty food of Egypt instead of the meager fare in the wilderness. It looks good. It seems like the answer to a need. It might even “work” a time or two or fifteen. In other words, our sin gets us what we want. Which makes it harder to think that the thing we’ve grown to love, our own dear precious, needs to be left at the foot of the cross and done away with forever.

Published in: on January 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Hobbit And The Dragon Or Playing With Fire


LonelyMountainI’m re-reading The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, something seeing the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made me want to do. I’ve reached the part where our hero, Bilbo Baggins, confronts the dragon (Smaug) in his lair beneath the Lonely Mountain.

After having successfully made off with a gold cup during his first foray into the tunnels, Bilbo returned, hoping to learn something useful about Smaug. He strokes the monstrous creature’s ego, plies him with questions, and learns some very useful information. However, Bilbo’s successes make him careless. He takes a parting shot, taunting the dragon about not being able to catch him (he was wearing the ring that made him invisible).

The jab infuriated Smaug, and he went after the hobbit based on sound and smell. Bilbo was severely singed and barely escaped with his life. What’s more, the dragon went after the place he believed Bilbo was using as an entrance into the mountain tunnels. He was right, though he didn’t know it, and sealed Bilbo and his companions inside.

All because Bilbo got a little cocky from his successes.

Bilbo and SmaugSomething else came from the hobbit’s engagement with the dragon. Smaug planted a few seeds of doubt in Bilbo’s mind. Would his companions–dwarfs–really divide with him as they promised whatever treasure they might gain? And if so, how was he going to cart that treasure all the way back home when the journey to the Lonely Mountain had been so hard?

Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug isn’t so different from a real person’s encounter with the enemy of our souls.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to reason with Satan. We’re told to flee, resist, stand firm, but never to parlay.

Even Jesus, in the three particular temptations the Bible records, fought Satan with Scripture. He didn’t explain why He wasn’t going to turn stones into bread or jump from the pinnacle of the temple. Rather, He stated what God had said, and He stuck to it. Far from gloating when He’d bested Satan, He spent time in the company of angels afterward, recovering from the ordeal, perhaps, or preparing for the next encounter.

Too often in my experience, when I see a spiritual victory, I think, One down, one less to worry about. At that point, I’m just like Bilbo taunting Smaug. How much wiser to look for the nearest company of angels. And falling short of that, to find a fellow believer or time alone in God’s Word.

The point is, spiritual victories feel like a “high,” but in reality they create some of the most vulnerable moments in our spiritual walk. They might tempt us to pride, to relax our guard, to listen to the suggestions the enemy slipped in during the encounter.

When we are weak, then we are strong, Scripture says, but too often we operate as if we are strong when we are strong. We bested a temptation, responded in faith, trusted God in spite of what Satan threw against us, and we think it’s over, that we’ve come out on top. The unpleasant news is, there is no “on top” until Satan is put away for good or until we enter into God’s presence for good. Until that time, we’re in a war, and one battle doesn’t mean Satan is waving the white flag. He’s not. He’s a hungry lion (or dragon), and we are his prey.

Bilbo made a costly mistake, one that we can so easily make too unless we keep the armor God gave us firmly in place.

Published in: on January 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


kinopoisk.ruI’m not going to give a formal review of the Peter Jackson movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey because (a) lots of other people have already given far better reviews than I could muster, (b) people already know the story, and (c) the trailers have already hooked viewers, or not. Oh, and the movie has been out for three weeks, so lots and lots of people have already seen it. I do have some thoughts about the movie, though, some in reaction to what I read in reviews.

First, I liked the beginning. I thought it was a masterful segue for those who might not be familiar with the story but who had seen the Lord of the Rings movies. Some of the material was straight from the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring.

It made me think once again that Jackson, had he known beforehand how popular Tolkien’s stories would be as movies, would have divided the trilogy into six movies. It would have been a good decision financially, but also literarily (after all, Tolkien divided the story into six “books” though they were published in three volumes). I would love to have seen the parts the movie makers omitted or condensed, fleshed out as they are doing with The Hobbit.

I enjoyed the dwarfs and agreed that they were wonderfully particularized, which made them seem quite real. I liked Bilbo very much and felt for him much as I did the first time I read the book. Seeing the dwarfs’ presumption and his confusion and Gandalf’s circumspection showed how disruptive this entire adventure was to his settled way of life.

I liked the fact that the movie showed Bilbo’s struggle to carry on once he realized the difficulties and the lack of faith Thorn had in him. I like the way he came to realize the need the dwarfs had to retake their home.

At the same time, I wonder how down-playing the dwarfs’ desire to reclaim their treasure will affect the later movies. This one certainly showed their wealth before Smaug invaded, and their efforts to squirrel away the trolls’ treasure (though I think they left a lot lying around), so perhaps that’s enough.

My biggest surprise might have been the appearance of Saruman the White. Since I just finished reading Return of the King, it was hard for me to look at him as a character the others respected. Actually, I think Peter Jackson may have had a hard time with that too, because I don’t think Gandalf and Galadriel actually did seem to respect him much. In the books, however, I think he was thoroughly convincing to those opposing the Evil Lord–which is why they accepted his counsel and did not try to root Sauron out of Mordor until it was too late.

I have to admit I thought some of the orc chase scenes seemed needlessly drawn out. When I read The Hobbit, the orcs seemed like a bigger threat somehow. More frightening, anyway. Bilbo’s big fear was to evade the orcs, not to escape Gollum. Only after Gollum went back to his island (which he didn’t do in the movie) did Bilbo realize he might have found Gollum’s Precious and that he was in danger.

Gollum in The Hobbit movieOther than that, though, the scenes with Gollum might be my favorites. They were so well played. Brilliant. They showed his dual personality beautifully. And Bilbo’s decision to stay his hand and escape without killing him was done so well.

I thought the movie makers did a good job bringing this first part to a satisfying conclusion. It wasn’t the cliff-hanging ending I feared, though obviously there’s more to come.

I thought the pacing was excellent. Some people said the first twenty minutes were slow, but I didn’t find any of it slow.

I also heard come mild criticism because of the segment with Radagast the Brown which does not exist in the novel. In some ways the character reminded me of Tom Bombadill. I thought perhaps Mr. Jackson drew on another part of The Fellowship of the Ring which he left out of that movie.

All in all, I found the movie to be happily satisfying. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but in looking forward to something, I realized there was the potential for it not to live up to my expectations. Not so with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It was thoroughly delightful. And yes, it made me want to read The Hobbit again. Another book on the To Be Read pile. 😀

Published in: on January 4, 2013 at 7:11 pm  Comments (3)  
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Gettin’ To Be THAT Time Of Year


I can feel it coming on. I’ve noticed it more the last few years, but no doubt it’s been part of my makeup for some time. Call it the Fantasy Itch.

Yep, for some reason as the “holiday season”–usually defined here in the US as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day–approaches, I begin to have an urge to snuggle in with one of the great fantasies. In recent years I’ve used the occasion to reread the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, much of the Narnia series, and a couple of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books. I even reread the one Harry Potter book I own–which made me realize, I definitely want to visit the library and get a couple more to satisfy this year’s fantasy itch.

The odd thing is, I read fantasy all the time–part of the job now, so to speak. I recently finished Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes, a general market young adult story, and the beginning of a series touted as “ideal for fans of George R. R. Martin and Kristin Cashore.” Then there was Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, another general market YA. Before that was Shannon Hale’s sequel to Princess Academy, Palace of Stone.

Of course I also read all the books the CSFF Blog Tour features and some I judge for contests and others friends send me. With all this speculative fiction coming out of my ears, why would I want to settle down with a fantasy as a special holiday season activity?

I don’t really have an answer. I think I’ve mentioned this propensity before, either here or at Spec Faith, and kindly commenters have tried to help me make sense of it. It’s still a mystery to me.

Somehow, with shorter days and cooler weather (I realize we here in SoCal aren’t allowed by our Eastern friends to say “cold weather” 😆 ), reading becomes a greater pleasure. But more than that, getting lost in a different world, one so rich it feels real, is pure delight.

Which probably explains why I gravitate to certain books–those classics that have a level of worldbuilding that is a grade above most other fantasies.

Some of these more recent fantasies–not the urban kind or the dystopians–seem to me to be a weak imitation of the medieval world, with different countries, and of course some magic or supernatural power. In other words, I don’t feel transported to somewhere else.

Tolkien’s stories, though supposedly happening on “middle earth,” feel Other. Not unfamiliar or strange, mind you. There are familiar things like inns and ponies and roads and a comfortable fire and birthday parties. But peopling this familiar place are hobbits and trolls and dwarfs and orcs and wizards and dragons and elves. What’s more, there are frightening forests and abandoned dwarf mines that once held an entire city and mountains that turn malevolent and secret stairways and deadly marshes. In other words, along with the familiar are places that enchant and intrigue and even frighten.

Harry Potter is similar. Nothing could be more familiar to most of us than a school, though fewer of us have experienced a boarding school, unless you lived in a dorm during college. But mixed in with what seems so normal–homework and tests and boring lectures and athletic contests–is the special world of wizardry with its hierarchy and governance, games and tradition. And history. A dark history in which a wizard utilizing the dark arts ruled.

Ah, yes, I’m definitely ready to settle down with a good fantasy. It’s that time of year!

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