Between 2005 and 2012 I read very little fiction. I’m still not entirely sure why. I like fiction, and especially love seeing the mechanics of storytelling at work. But for whatever reason, for about seven years I read virtually nothing but nonfiction material.
Until I was challenged to branch out a bit during a visit with my co-worker, Amber. Never one to back away from a challenge, I dived back into the world of fiction, reading a mix of popular contemporary and classic works. One of my favorites from my foray into fiction — and the one I’m going to recommend to you today — is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Why this book?
I know there are a bunch of you who probably read this book in middle school (or are reading it now because there’s a new movie loosely based on it in theaters now). But whether Tolkien’s story of Bilbo Baggins’ adventure is familiar or foreign, few could question the genuine pleasure one gets from reading it. For me, it’s the way Tolkien writes that I enjoy the most. I’m not sure how to explain it. There’s a richness to his writing that I really, really enjoy. For example:
“Smaug lay, with wings folded like an immeasurable bat, turned partly on one side, so that the hobbit could see his underparts and his long pale belly crusted with gems and fragments of gold from his long lying on his costly bed. Behind him where the walls were nearest could dimly be seen coats of mail, helms and axes, swords and spears hanging; and there in rows stood great jars and vessels filled with a wealth that could not be guessed.
“To say that Bilbo’s breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful. Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before, but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves; and he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian, at the gold beyond price and count.”
Immediately, you get it. The imagination starts working and you understand the horrible magnificence of what Bilbo was seeing as the dragon laid on his ill-gotten treasure. Gloriousness mixed with terror … and then the overwhelming “enchantment” of the treasure.
This is what good fiction does — it transports us into the world the author has created and captivates us. It allows us to see a world — and sometimes our world — with a different perspective and to enjoy all the good gifts God has given us in the creativity of humanity. This is a wonderful gift no other creature has been given, and it should cause us to be glad and rejoice in our great God and Savior.
What works of fiction have you found helpful in your own faith journey? Why were they helpful?
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One of my favorite things about the book that didn’t get translated into the book is the depth surrounding weapons like Bilbo’s sword Sting. For Tolkien, they aren’t just utensils for killing.
I am just finishing Kisses from Katie. What a powerful example and wonderful testament of God using imperfect people (us!) in life changing ways.
The dragon is you when your reading the hobbt, but when your Christin, you don’t compare, fantasy with the gospel, when people read genesis and they are non believers they see it like the Hobbit,( i hope that they will do that). Because then the read the gospel with attention, A lot of christian people have faith in God yes, but no fate in a Almighty God or his power, of powers of creation,!. Maybe stupid but have you ever read the bible? Really reading, with understanding of what the bible describe? The creation, the waters all the plants and animals, how many animals do we now, NOT by their name? And they where there before! Yes, they where their before Genesis, IN HIS POTENCY! In HIS creative powers when you can imagine this, you find no attraction more in fantasy writers.
“A safe fairyland is untrue to all worlds.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
The Insanity of God – It’ll rock your world, in a good and Godly way.
Yay! I love this post. And I love all of the comments here. It is wonderful to see fiction writing celebrated as a blessing and a gift from God. I never thought about the fact that we are God’s only creation given the ability to create and record a story for posterity. Cool.
I love many of the books Amber listed: Anne of Green Gables, the Little House books, LIttle Women, C.S. Lewis. I like mysteries and popular novels. Outside of fiction, I like memoirs and biographies. I just like anything written well.
I think what fiction does, at its core, is it tells and retells the story of good vs. evil in a myriad of creative ways. I think it gives us characters who model the traits that we would like to have and God would want us to have — courage, loyalty, kindness, good humor, etc.. We find these characteristics in people in books and we love and learn from them.
I adore the Hobbit, too. 🙂
Perhaps it’s a bit awkward or even controversial among more fundamentalist-leaning Christians to say it, but the Bible. For instance, our genes within all of our cells tell the story of our individual ancestries and their migrations. The “out of Africa” story is pretty well attested and very interesting to learn about. And while it doesn’t so much correspond (at least historically) with the first chapters in Genesis, in no way does it really short-shift the first book’s beginnings. As you say, good fiction “transports us into the world the author has created and captivates us. It allows us to see a world — and sometimes our world — with a different perspective and to enjoy all the good gifts God has given us in the creativity of humanity.” Much of Christianity is now in the 21st century, as one could say, on a Tookish adventure.
I’m glad I could bring the wonderful world of fiction back into your life. I tend to read classic children’s fiction, as it has stood the test of time. My favorites: The Little House series, the Anne of Green Gables series, The Secret Garden, C.S. Lewis’ sci-fi trilogy, the Artemis Fowl series, and the Harry Potter series.
Hi Amber! Did you only read three of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia? There are seven to read. I found the Magician’s Nephew and The Silver Chair among my favorites. The last one is hardest to read, like Revelations, though I love the description of heaven.
Amber is referring to a different series written by CS Lewis – a sci-fi trilogy that I have always wanted to read.
Yes, I mean the series of sci-fi books for adolescents/adults: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Very interesting books! (I love the Chronicles too!)
I read the Hobbit and LOTR 4 times through by the time I was 20. Awesome, mind bending, beautiful, Christ forming reads. Tolkein’s descriptive power is off the charts. I got to sit at the desk where he wrote the series at the Wade Center at Wheaton College. Yes, the creative power of words is a gift of God. Thanks for this.
Thanks for doing this series on here! I love the George MacDonald books, all written in the 1800s. George MacDonald had a wonderful awareness of the amazing love of God, and he had a special gift for making that love more real to his readers through the stories he wrote. Some of them, the ones set in Scotland, are written in the old Scottish dialect, but many are written in English. He wrote novels, fairy tales, fantasy, poetry, and some non-fiction. I love them all!