It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my tastes to know hear that Rowan and I went to see the last instalment of The Hobbit trilogy of movies over Christmas. This was one of the books that got me into reading big time as a child, that magical opening line, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’. Straight away that had me hooked. I wanted to know what a hobbit was, what they were like and why they lived in holes. I wanted to know about this particular hobbit and this particular hole. Fortunately for me JRR Tolkien answered these questions over the next couple of paragraphs, but the damage was already done, I was drawn in and obsessed with the tale and the world the Professor had created. A world which in a roundabout way was responsible for me becoming a Christian, and hence being here at Wormley! But that, as they say, is another story… (but I will ask a related question regardless, how can we present the Christian story in such a way as to draw people in and capture their imagination?)
So what did I think of the film? Like the Lord of the Rings movies before it, it was visually stunning. The New Zealand countryside with its sweeping vistas and rugged mountains made the perfect backdrop. The sets, costumes, and creatures were just as the book painted them in my imagination. The action scenes were incredible, a level of realism that only a decade ago would have been unimaginable. We came away having thoroughly enjoyed it, and sad that at last that Peter Jackson’s endeavours in Middle Earth were finally over.
But (did you sense that ‘but’ coming?) as much as I enjoyed it, I was left with that nagging feeling that it wasn’t the story I’d read all those years before. It called itself The Hobbit, it had the characters from the book in it and was about the same events, but despite these similarities, there was something about it that simply didn’t ring true. New bits had been introduced, new characters and new plotlines. Some of these made sense and fitted, but others left me scratching my head and asking why. More fundamental to my dissatisfaction, however, was that somehow in the transition from book to screen the focal point had changed. The trilogy of films seemed to be all about the action scenes and combat, whereas the books were about a journey, ethical decisions and grappling with what to do when the right course of action seems to be to go against your friends, and the discovery that the hero of the adventure was not one of the powerful, strong or magical characters but the unassuming, timid Hobbit, who represents in many ways us, normal folk.
In a conversation with one of my colleagues this week, the way we live out the Christian faith today was questioned. I disagreed with his conclusions, but was left with the challenge of the discussion to ponder on – are we serious about living out the Christian life, following the call and example of Christ, or do we sometimes play at it, living out a life that that we call ‘Christian’ but actually if we look hard at it, its focus is not on Christ but elsewhere, a bit like The Hobbit movie compared to the book?