Review: Hobbit Lessons, Devin Brown

If, as Devin Brown, channeling Professor Tolkien, reminds us, “all that is gold does not glitter,” then readers might be forgiven for overlooking Hobbit Lessons: A Map for Life’s Unexpected Journeys. Brown’s book is much like the titular hobbits from which it draws inspiration: short and unassuming, at barely 140 pages. Billed loosely as “self-help,” Hobbit Lessons is really a meditation on the themes of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and a gentle nudge to set forth on the adventurous possibilities life presents us.

Hobbit Lessons, Devin Brown, Abingdon Press, 2013.

Hobbit Lessons, Devin Brown, Abingdon Press, 2013.

Brown discusses Tolkien’s themes across several chapters, touching on such subjects as the importance of friendship, giving and accepting help, the power of greed, and the “sacramental” quality of ordinary life. Readers will not be surprised by Brown’s conclusions, although they will sometimes find nuggets hearty enough to tide them over to second breakfast. It might have spared Bilbo and friends no end of trouble, for instance, if the hobbit had slain Gollum upon meeting him. But by staying his hand, whether out of compassion or pity, Bilbo saved Middle Earth: It was Gollum, of course, who showed Frodo and Sam the way to Mordor, and Gollum’s treachery that ultimately delivered the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom.

Hobbit Lessons is written in a style that both readers and non-readers will find accessible. Although Brown is a professor of English, he hews closely to the purpose of his book and avoids literary jargon and analysis that some readers would find off-putting. Readers of Hobbit Lessons needn’t be hardcore Lord of the Rings aficionados. I’ve seen the movies, read the books multiple times, and read books about the books, but my sense is that anyone who has seen the movies will be comfortable with Brown’s subject matter.

I will note one caveat in regards to Hobbit Lessons. Abingdon Press is a Christian publisher, and Asbury University, where Brown teaches, is a Christian college. Brown is writing from a Christian perspective, as becomes clear with his references to biblical parables and his assertion that there is a “Plan” (my term, not Brown’s) to Middle Earth’s destiny, that is, it follows, the result of a behind-the-scenes “Planner.” That said, Tolkien wrote from a Christian perspective, too, and Brown in no way misrepresents the professor’s intentions (at least according to my understanding). Brown’s references to religion are subtle and will be noted only by the very alert (some might say “sensitive”) reader. This non-Christian reader was alarmed by the first veiled religious references, but those concerns were quickly put to rest. Hobbit Lessons may be enjoyed by any reader who appreciates the stories, regardless of religious or philosophical persuasion.

What you need to know: As a flannel-clad, bearded manly-man, I rarely use the term “cute,” but it seems appropriate here: Hobbit Lessons is a cute little exposition on the wisdom Tolkien packed into the little people who dwell in the Shire. Brown hints that Tolkien’s stories are so popular because they are “true”; readers will appreciate the mythic power Brown describes. A short and fun little book that can be quickly read and appreciated by any LotR fan.

(Special thanks to NetGalley and Abingdon Press for providing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.)

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