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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

By
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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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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