Imagine yourself in a pre-industrial world full of mystery and magic. Imagine a world full of monsters, demons, and danger, as well as a world full of friends, fairies, good wizards, and adventure. In doing so you have just taken your first step onto a vast world created by author and scholar John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Tolkien became fascinated by language at an early age during his schooling, in particularly, the languages of Northern Europe, both ancient and modern. This affinity for language did not only lead to his profession, but also his private hobby, the invention of languages. His broad knowledge eventually led to the development of his opinions about Myth and the importance of stories. All these various perspectives: language, the heroic tradition, and Myth, as well as deeply-held beliefs in Catholic Christianity work together in all of his works. The main elements of Tolkien’s works are Good versus Evil, characters of Christian and anti-Christian origin, and the power of imagination.
In Tolkien world, evil is the antithesis of creativity, and is dependent on destruction and ruin for its basis. Conversely, goodness is associated with the beauty of creation as well as the preservation of anything that is created. The symbolic nature of these two ideologies is represented in the Elven Rings, which symbolize goodness, and the One Ring, which is wholly evil. A main theme of "The Hobbit", then, is the struggle within our own free will between good will and evil. "Early in the (Lord of the Rings) narrative, Frodo recalls that his uncle Bilbo, especially during his later years, was fond of declaring that… there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was it tributary." (Wood, 208)
Bilbo, the main character of "The Hobbit", often displayed his goodness throughout Tolkien’s novel. One example of this goodness is when he decides to let the evil and corrupt Gollum live, out of pity for him, in the dark caves under the mountain. Bilbo could have easily slain the horrid creature mainly because of the ring, which he was wearing at that time, gave him the power of invisibility. Instead, he risked his life to let the Gollum live by quickly jumping past the evil creature, thereby escaping death of either character. Gandalf, in a later narrative, lectures Frodo by praising Bilbo’s act of pity upon Gollum. Gandalf’s words were, "Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy; not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded Frodo." For Gollum, later in the novel, saved Frodo from becoming possessed by the Ring of power. "Many that live deserves death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement…" (Wood, 208)
Another form of goodness that is displayed throughout "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" is Bilbo and Frodo’s actions of self-sacrifice. In "The Hobbit" there are two instances in which villains caught the dwarves, Bilbo’s fellow adventurers. Instead of fleeing their enemies, Bilbo risked his life to save the dwarves from the clutches of evil. One instance of this is when a clan of unusually large spiders captured Bilbo’s companions and planned to eat them. Bilbo then devised a plan to distract the spiders away from their victims and then silently backtracked to his companions. He then cut the dwarves from the sticky spider webs with which they were tied and, together, they fought their way to safety. Also, Frodo, in "The Lord of the Rings" was challenged with the destruction of the all-evil and corrupting One Ring of power. In doing so, Frodo sacrificed his life. "We should also remember that Frodo’s self-sacrifice is not only for the defeat of evil; it is also for the good of society, for the whole community of created beings. This suggests, in turn, that in the mind of the fantasist, society is worth saving." (Evans, 481)
As opposed to the good deeds and morals portrayed by Bilbo and his companions, there are many foul and unholy creatures that lurk in the pages of Tolkien’s works, which commit horrible acts. One of the most horrid of the acts in "The Hobbit" was the corruption of Gollum. Gollum was not always the slimy, cave dwelling, dangerous monster that he became. He was once a Hobbit, not unlike Bilbo himself, named Smeagol. However, one day he and his brother, Deagol, were by a riverbank. Deagol found the ring of power. Then, Smeagol, who soon became the Gollum, killed his brother to attain the Ring of power for himself. This Ring, "the Ring to rule them all", had the power to corrupt any person who possessed it. Whether it was the Ring’s overpowering magic or simply Gollum’s lust for the ring, the corruption that overcame Smeagol drove him to commit the ghastly murder of his brother. Another evil in "The Hobbit" is an evil that is much more familiar to any reader, the evil of greed. This trait is most prominent in the character of the gigantic dragon Smaug. Even though Smaug has no use for great amounts of gold and jewels, he covets and guards his stolen fortune to the death. Tolkien had created the dragon to be born with the desire to plunder towns and kill the innocent to gain his utmost desires, treasure of any and all sorts. Tolkien may very well have created this monster in the light of many monsters of our world, the "primary" world. However, these monsters do not fly on wings like that of a great bat and spat fire from their nostrils. These monsters usually wear a suit and tie. Like the fictional Smaug, some greedy human beings feed off others of lesser power or social status to attain their financial goals of excess.
Even though Tolkien claims that "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" were not written in the light of Christianity or as an allegory, there is a great presence of religious symbolism throughout his epic. Urang agrees in his statement, "The Lord of the Rings, although it contains no ‘God’, no ‘Christ’, and no ‘Christians’, embodies much of Tolkien’s ‘real religion’ and is a profoundly a Christian work." Tolkien, whether by mistake or purposely, seems to relate the adventures and acts of his characters Bilbo and Gandalf closely to the acts of Christ in the Bible. In the "The Hobbit", Bilbo often acted as Jesus would in the Bible. Confronted with the possession of the evil Ring of power, Bilbo was often tempted to use the Ring in excess and for wrong reasons. However the strong willed hobbit never succumbed to that evil power, much like when Jesus resists the temptation of Satan in the desert in Matthew 3:16. In short, the passage explains how the Lord, after fasting for forty days and forty nights, resists the temptation to create food and feast. He then is tested by Satan to call upon his angels to save him from deadly leap off of the highest point of a high precipice. Jesus simply turns Satan away again. Also, one of Bilbo’s descendants, Frodo, was burdened with the temptation of the Ring. Frodo knew of the power that the Ring held and knew that he could either be a great evil power himself, or that this great evil thing must be destroyed. The end of the "Lord of the Rings" results in the destruction of the Ring and, along with it, the death of Frodo. "Frodo learns - and thus teaches - what for Tolkien is the deepest of all Christian truths: how to surrender one’s life, how to lose one’s treasure, how to die, and thus how truly to live." (Wood, 208)
Another Christian-like manifestation of Tolkien’s creative imagination is the character of Gandalf, the good wizard. "Gandalf, the Christ-like wizard who lays down his life for his friends, knows that he is an unworthy bearer of the Ring – not because he has evil designs that he wants secretly to accomplish, but rather because his desire to do good is so great." (Wood 208) Gandalf is an important pawn and advantage to the hobbit and dwarves in their adventure. He often guides, gives advice, and overall helps the adventurers along in their great journey. Believers of Christianity also believe that Christ is with them, guiding and showing the way to salvation, throughout their day. Although Gandalf, in Tolkien’s novels, never cured a blind man or leper with a touch of his hand, he compares to Jesus in the miracles of his magic and spell casting.