Every life is an adventure. It is a perilous journey from this life of shadows on earth to the splendorous treasure of Heaven. In order to get to Heaven successfully, Jesus Christ revealed that we must follow in His footsteps, because He is the only way to Heaven. Not only did He leave behind His words to assist us along the path of life, but Christ loved us enough to give us companions for our journey. These are valuable tools that assist us in our adventure, tools that help us fight the dragons of sin and selfishness. 

In his letters to the Corinthians, St. Paul lays out many practical ways by which our journey is made less hazardous. He speaks of virtue, specifically three core virtues which the Church calls “theological virtues”: “So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13) The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, does an excellent job illustrating how a Christian must grow in these virtues in order to truly imitate Christ. Throughout the story, Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist, grows in faith, hope, and love in turn. Bilbo exemplifies the way every human must live his venture towards heaven. 

An excellent example of Bilbo’s newfound faith in his call to higher adventure lies in the beginning of The Hobbit. He begins his adventure as all Christians do—with baptism. When Christians are baptized, they receive an indelible sign on the door of their hearts, marking them as players in God’s master plan. Likewise, Bilbo receives a sign on his front door, signaling the beginning of his adventure. This sign is responsible for bringing Bilbo his first opportunity to grow in faith. When dwarves show up for dinner, asking him for help in a quest for their long-lost treasure, Bilbo has a choice: should he stay where he is comfortable and familiar, or go into the great unknown on an extremely dangerous adventure? Should he have faith in Gandalf, and his choice of a mere hobbit as the all-important burglar? Something awakens in Bilbo that night, “and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking stick.” (Tolkien, pg 16) Like St. Peter on the water, Bilbo takes a leap of faith. When commissioning his disciples, Jesus told them to take neither “a moneybag, a sack, nor sandals.” (Luke 10:4) Bilbo finds himself running after his own adventure without any comforting material objects. The sign he had received on his door calls him to burglary, and it takes tremendous faith in Gandalf to respond to that call, but respond Bilbo did. 

This response of faith certainly led to a lot of trouble, and poor Bilbo needed to grow in hope before he could reach his journey’s end. New Advent, an online encyclopedia, defines hope as “the desire of something together with the expectation of obtaining it.” Bilbo’s desire for and promise of treasure are what give him the nerve to press onward when Thorin and Company are shut up in the tunnel of the Lonely Mountain. The same hobbit who was tempted to despair way back in Mirkwood learns what hope feels like: “Bilbo felt a strange lightening of his heart, as if a heavy weight had gone from under his waistcoat.” He goes on to share this newfound hope with the dwarves, quoting his father: “Where there’s life, there’s hope!” (Tolkien, pg 235) The trip they make consequently to this statement is what saves their skin. Without Bilbo’s hope, they all might have quite literally suffocated in their despair. 

Yet hope in higher things is not the most important virtue Bilbo acquires on his adventure—he learns what it means to love, and that, as St. Paul attests, surpasses all. The life of Jesus Christ shows that true love is synonymous with sacrifice, a sincere gift of one’s very self. When the book opens, Bilbo is hardly willing to share food with the dwarves, much less risk everything he is for them. In Mirkwood, Bilbo not only rescues the dwarves, but for their sake battles the giant spiders singlehandedly. After escaping the wood-elves, Bilbo willingly swims in a freezing-cold river to follow the dwarves, and finishes that trip struggling to stay afloat atop a barrel. When the time comes to perform the burglary for which he was called, Bilbo faces death in the form of a dragon, in order that he might discover the crucial information that the outcome of their adventure hinges upon. In this repeated self-sacrifice, Bilbo discovers what Christ meant when he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24) Not only does he receive the treasure he has adventured for, but Bilbo discovers satisfaction in the fulfillment of his calling, and in the love he grows for his companions through sacrifice.

As he grows in virtue throughout his adventure, Bilbo teaches us what it takes to imitate Christ, and thereby accept his gift of heaven. Christians must have faith in God’s plans for them, and follow the calling they receive at baptism. When the going gets rough, they must hope in the treasures God has in store at the end of their adventure. Ultimately, they must learn to love as Christ did, with a complete gift of self. Christ instructs all mankind, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Because Bilbo sacrifices everything he has, everything he wants, and everything he is in order to better live his vocation to adventure, he can be rewarded with the treasure he sought. In the process, although he never knew His name, Bilbo becomes like Christ. Readers young and old can be strengthened on their adventures by the shining example of Bilbo Baggins.

Works Cited:

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986

The New American Bible. Wichita, Kansas: Catholic Bible Publishers

“Full Index for H”. www.newadvent.org. Copyright 2009. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/h-ce.htm>.

Marie Jeanette
Columnist