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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Martin Freeman stars in a scene from the movie "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
First published in 1937, Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien's children's novel "The Hobbit, or There and Back Again" has proved so popular in the decades since that it has never gone out of print.

With "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Warner Bros.), director Peter Jackson provides movie audiences with an epic 3-D screen version of the opening part of Tolkien's widely beloved work.

Not for the easily frightened nor—at well over two-and-a-half hours—for those with short attention spans, his sweeping journey across Tolkien's imaginary world of Middle-earth is nonetheless an upbeat outing suitable for all others.

In this first installment of a trio of prequels to Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001-03)—also, of course, based on Tolkien's fiction—homebody hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) finds his contented existence within the safe confines of Middle-earth's Shire region disturbed by the arrival on his doorstep of magisterial wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen).

Gandalf has seemingly unlikely plans for timid Bilbo: He wants him to accompany and aid a group of dwarves on a dangerous quest. Led by their sturdy chieftain Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the dwarves -- a crude but spirited lot who descend on Bilbo's house at Gandalf's invitation -- are out to recapture their ancient stronghold, Erebor. Once a storehouse for the dwarves' fabulous wealth, Erebor was long ago conquered by Smaug, a rampaging dragon who coveted its vast horde of gold.

Though Bilbo initially wants nothing to do with the dwarves' perilous mission, in the face of Gandalf's insistence, and perhaps sensing his own destiny, he eventually relents.

The heroism of ordinary people and the potential for everyday goodness to subdue evil are the primary themes of the long, combat-heavy adventure that follows. Tolkien's tale can be viewed as a sort of prophecy, foretelling the down-to-earth courage with which his British compatriots would soon confront the onslaught of the Nazi war machine.

As Bilbo proves his mettle, the corrupting effects of power are also showcased through his encounter with Gollum (Andy Serkis), a cave dweller obsessed with—and spiritually enslaved by—a magical ring.

Gollum's grasping character also may relate to the current events of the 1930s, given that the period between the world wars saw the rise of numerous dictators bent on aggression and acquisition. But the endurance of the story in which he appears suggests that his traits may have a broader moral application as well.

The film contains much bloodless action violence and some mild gross-out humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog I discovered that my sins had created a spiritual racket that drowned out the gentle whispers of God to my soul; God had never actually abandoned me, but I needed repentance and sacramental grace to reawaken all that was good and beautiful in me.


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