Yesterday marked the anniversary of the death of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), which presents a good opportunity to write out a post I’ve been meaning to get to. I re-read The Hobbit over the summer, after finishing my first-ever reading of The Silmarillion in the spring. I have to say, the older I get, and the more of Tolkien I read, I find so much amazing application in his stories that relates to real life and spiritual truth. Which, if you’ve read Tolkien’s comments on writing stories, is what he said he really wanted to do – connect real life with the stab of real, serious Joy that comes to us from the redeemed world that human beings were made for in the first place.
Here’s an example of Tolkien’s applicability. In The Hobbit, Bilbo and the dwarves arrive at the Lake-Town, built out upon Esgaroth, in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. Thorin Oakenshield, the rightful “King Under the Mountain” is one of the company, and has returned according to prophecies and songs to take up his rule and dispatch Smaug the dragon. Tolkien creates a sense of what it means for a rightful king to take his place on his waiting throne, in his waiting kingdom. There’s the sense of great rejoicing, of fruition, of hope that wrongs will be put right and that the evil tyrant will finally be vanquished.
The returning of kings in Tolkien’s stories isn’t meant to be allegorical. But he means for us to see reflections there of the real thing. The King will return, and Tolkien wants us to long for that day. Obviously, you can read an even more detailed and profound sense of this in The Return of the King, but here it is in The Hobbit.
“Other folk were far away; and some of the younger people in the town openly doubted the existence of any dragon in the mountain, and laughed at the greybeards and gammers who said that they had seen him flying in the sky in their young days. That being so it is not surprising that the guards were drinking and laughing by a fire in their hut, and did not hear the noise of the unpacking of the dwarves or the footsteps of the four scouts. Their astonishment was enormous when Thorin Oakenshield stepped in through the door.
‘Who are you and what do you want?’ they shouted leaping to their feet and groping for weapons.
‘Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror King under the Mountain!’ said the dwarf in a loud voice, and he looked it, in spite of his torn clothes and draggled hood. The gold gleamed on his neck and waist; his eyes were dark and deep. ‘I have come back. I wish to see the master of your town!’
Then there was tremendous excitement. Some of the more foolish ran out of the hut as if they expected the Mountain to go golden in the night and all the waters of the lake turn yellow right away…
…The news had spread from the doors of the hall like fire through all the town. People were shouting inside the hall and outside it. The quays were thronged with hurrying feet. Some began to sing snatches of old songs concerning the return of the King under the Mountain; that it was Thror’s grandson not Thror himself that had come back did not bother them at all. Others took up the song and it rolled loud and high over the lake.
The King beneath the mountains,
The King of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come unto his own! …
The streams shall run in gladness,
The lakes shall shine and burn,
All sorrow fail and sadness
At the Mountain-King’s return!”