I mentioned here a delightful new book by Inklings scholar Devin Brown. Devin is the author of The Christian World of The Hobbit. That longer study is a direct explication of the Christian themes and context for Tolkien’s work. Now he has produced a shorter, more accessible work for a wider audience.

Hobbit Lessons: A Map for Life’s Unexpected Journeys pulls life lessons from Tolkien’s classic. Unlike other more academic studies of Tolkien’s work, Brown mines the text for homely lessons about life’s challenges.

Just over 130 pages, this little paperback would be a perfect gift for a middle school fan of middle earth. In saying that, the lessons are not only for juveniles. Anybody can benefit from being reminded about the character traits of Bilbo, the nexus of his decisions, the challenges he faces and the way to overcome foes and make new friends.

Through five chapters (and a prologues and epilogue) with delightful titles like “When Adventure Comes Knocking Let it In (Even if it Makes You Late for Dinner)” Brown walks us through The Hobbit picking choice articles of advice from the depths of the story. He covers the virtue of loyalty in friendship, the proper attitude toward wealth, what to think about oneself, discerning reality and appearances and having the proper measure of yourself within a world of adventure.

Brown discusses these life issues in a down to earth and friendly way–almost as if you are discussing the book in the cozy setting of a hobbit hole with a kindly mentor like Gandalf. What I really appreciated about this book was that it was Christian without being obvious. Brown uses Tolkien’s story to open our hearts and minds to practical wisdom, and everything in the book complements and walks beside the verities of the Christian faith, but Brown handles his material in a careful way so as to make the Christian elements almost invisible.

Is that a good thing? In my opinion it is just the way a book like this should be handled. To press Tolkien’s work too hard for explicit Christian imagery, life lessons, moral instruction or even Christian dogma is to do violence to Tolkien’s incarnational intention. T0lkien wanted to embed the truth in the world of Middle Earth and the adventures of Frodo and Bilbo. The idea is to lock the truth so tightly into the story that it cannot be removed without destroying the story. Brown delicately lifts out the lessons while continuing to admire and delight in the story itself.

Not only does this do justice to Tolkien’s tale, but it is a very winning way to evangelize. Readers of The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again do not want to hear long sermons about the Christian faith, extensive moralizing or abstract discussions of doctrine or esoteric symbolism. They may well be put off by Christians seemingly hi-jacking their favorite book for their own purposes. Brown’s softly softly approach is winning and will draw readers of The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again into a deeper understanding and application of the story without being alarmed or annoyed by Christian sermonizing.

The book could have been improved with some further references for those who want to learn more about Tolkien and his work. There is, at least, a link at the back to his more ambitious  work The Christian World of The Hobbit which has plenty of sources for further Tolkien study. Also, some of the illustrations seemed amateurish. These are small grumbles in an otherwise pleasant addition to the shelves full of books about Tolkien and his world. This one is practical in the best way and disarming in its straightforward simplicity.

Go here to learn more about Hobbit Lessons: A Map for Life’s Unexpected Journeys.

Devin Brown is also an eminent C.S.Lewis expert. His most recent book on Lewis is A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis. I spoke with Devin on my radio show More Christianity. I’ll be posting more links to the shows in the new year.