Tolkien’s ‘Hobbit’ a children’s book for adults

As a Christmas gift to myself this year, I spent some time with a couple of good friends and we went to see “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” a film adaption of the children’s novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. As advertised, it was exciting, entertaining and fun. Though the plot was a little thin, it was overall a satisfying conclusion to Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy and a good bridge to “The Lord of the Rings” movies. I am sure that I will happily watch “The Hobbit” again someday.

But first, I will re-read the book.

To be clear, I am not one to compare movies to their literary counterparts only to say “the book was better.” When it comes to certain details, yes, books will always be better than films. At the same time, film is a worthy story-telling medium that can capture some experiences in a way that cannot be done well through text. With St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I declare that I “choose all”—books and movies, please!

“The Hobbit” movies were very good, and yet I find myself longing for one thing that only the book provided. It is not so much a plot detail, or character choice or story-telling style—it’s more of a feeling that the book conveys. I will call it “charm.” Maybe it could also be called “delight,” “lightheartedness” or “childlikeness.”

When I read “The Hobbit” for the first time, I was a seminarian on my annual silent retreat. One night I was seated by the fire at the retreat center, engaged in an important scene in which Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves go to see Beorn—a terrifying man known for his short temper and for changing into a large bear. I found myself laughing out loud at the dialogue—wiping tears from my eyes because it was too funny. (I had to excuse myself from the fireplace so as to not disturb somebody else’s silence!)

Just as Tolkien had begun to draw me into the dangerous realities of the characters’ quest, he reminded me that I was still reading a children’s book. It was as if Tolkein was saying: “Yes, this is serious and life is intense sometimes, but it’s not without its humor and beauty.” This is the charm of the novel. What a lesson to learn! God’s grace was in that lesson for me. It was a grace that appeared much the same way that Gandalf repeatedly appears: he comes when he is “most needed and least expected.”

Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton are three novelists of the last century who had a wonderful gift for capturing the charm of life while telling stories that involve very profound topics such as death, sacrifice and honor. They were all able to mix in a certain unseriousness with some very serious realities. “The Hobbit” is an excellent example of this. I would describe it as a children’s book for grown-ups.

The quest of Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves is life-threatening. In the midst of this, friendships are made, loyalties are questioned and lives are lost. Yet, through and through, it is a story for children, and for grown-ups who need to be reminded to take childlike delight in life.

I recommend watching the movies, for they are quite good. But the true riches are found in re-reading the book. For in it, you too may discover lessons that are “most needed and least expected.”

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”