Of Hobbits and Angels

After seeing the new Hobbit movie (in 3D nonetheless), and being a bit of an Inklings nerd, I was left wondering; “If Gandalf keeps saving the dwarves with miraculous power, why doesn’t he just use that power to take them to the end of the quest?” In one instance, when the dwarves are cornered and death is eminent, giant eagles arrive to carry them to safety. Why can’t the birds just take them to the mountain?

Before I endeavor to answer that question, this needs some setup: The Hobbit is about a hobbit named Bilbo, who is invited by a wizard named Gandalf to join a company of dwarves who are going to a mountain to slay a dragon. The interesting part is that Bilbo is a homebody who rarely even leaves his garden, while the dwarves are all veteran warrior-adventurers. It’s kind of like if you got asked to be a walk-on to Seal Team 6. The warriors are annoyed to have an amateur along, and really the only person who thinks Bilbo should be a part of the company is Gandalf himself. Along the way, when the company gets into trouble (wolves, trolls, and other mystical threats), Gandalf appears to assist in the company’s victory, sometimes fighting alongside the company, sometimes using wizard skills to affect the outcome.
Okay, now back to our question about the birds and Gandalfs power:

In a particularly bad situation, the company is cornered with no escape, and Gandalf calls giant eagles to rescue everyone. At the end of an incredibly arduous 24-hour battle, the company finds themselves resting (and even sleeping) on the backs of giant eagles, who take them well out of reach of their enemies to rest and regroup.

Why doesn’t Gandalf call the birds at the beginning? Why set out along the ground in the first place?

I mean, if the goal is to get to the mountain, kill the dragon, and return victorious, wouldn’t getting there faster be better? “And then the company flew to the Mountain, slew the dragon, and returned victorious. The End.”

In a pragmatic sense (assuming the internal logic of a fantasy novel) the answer is “No.” Bilbo would likely get killed in such a scenario. Without the trolls, orcs, swordfights and Gollum he wouldn’t have gotten his sword, discovered the ring, or found his courage. In short, he’d be useless at Lonely Mountain if he arrived unprepared, and it is the Unexpected Journey itself that is preparing him.

Wikipedia says the reason the Eagles don’t offer an express ticket to Lonely Mountain is because they are sentient beings and, while happy to do Gandalf a favor, it’s just that – a favor. They have their own stories to attend to.

The Bilbo from the Shire is not the Bilbo the company needs for the Unexpected Journey. The Bilbo the company needs is formed in the course of the Journey.

Why am I asking such questions in a Theology of Culture post?

It’s a big surprise, but Gandalf really plays the role of God in these films. (Although if you want to get picky, he’s more like Melchizedek or the holy spirit) He guides, challenges and saves the adventurers, but most often works through the world they inhabit, and only rarely pulls of a wizard/miracle event to save everyone. This where the mythological framework of Middle Earth jives with biblical truth: God’s not sent us on our journeys for his good or our fortune. Whatever your goal is, God’s plan is to forge a new you out of the old you. While he protects and guides us, he’s not merely in the business of dragon-slaying. If god wants the dragons of the world slain… he could do that himself.

I, like many of you I expect, have my own crises of calling from time to time. I know where I want to go, and while I am assured that this goal is a calling from God, he hasn’t shown up to put me in the express lane to get there.

What if Gandalf brought Bilbo on the journey to transform Bilbo (and by extention, the Shire, the Company, and Middle Earth)? What if the good he is trying to bring about, and the justice he is trying to serve isn’t just the slaying of a particular dragon, but transforming the world of Middle Earth?

God has sent me on my journey to transform me. He wants a Kyle Baker that is more fully Kyle (and more fully Christ) than I am. In the process of transforming me, he’ll also transform (and bring a hint of redemption to) those I journey with, and the places we journey through.

This thought gave me incredible comfort.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

On March 23rd, the highly anticipated movie, “The Hunger Games”, will hit theaters.  I must admit that I knew nothing of the books before the movie was announced–––but I have since read the first and second books, am currently reading the last, and am now eagerly awaiting the movie?

This movie has been marketed in a way which seems to suggest it is nothing more than the next “Twilight”, nothing more than attempt to fill in the space left by the ending of one franchise, and I fear that some will not give the series a chance because of this.  While I cannot speak for a movie which I have not seen yet, I can vouch for the book, and hope that the movie holds true to the amazing tale which Suzanne Collins presents in the book.

While both “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” are “Young Adult” books, both feature a female lead, and both have a prominent love triangle, this is where the similarity ends.  “The Hunger Games”, is dark and relentless in its tale of children forced to take part in a game to the death, televised for what’s left of the world to watch; a world ruled by the all-powerful Capitol.

Suzan Collins launches you into a world where one’s life is cherished, yet everyone has become ok with the idea of others’ deaths and, if necessary, they are prepared to take the life of another.  It is a world which seems devoid of hope and love.  A world where children are taken from their families, placed in an arena, and forced to violently pursue and murder one another.

Suzan Collins successfully achieves making you feel the weight of the violence, the brutality of what the kids are put through, the hopeless feeling of everyday life within the world of the book, and creating within the reader a hatred for the Capitol which is on par with the main character.  However, Collins does so without crossing a line of being grotesque.  Though there is no denying the violent nature of the book, Collins masterfully expresses the true horror and brutality through the psychological impact it is having on the main character, rather than relying on graphic descriptions of the violence itself.

“The Hunger Games”, is not simply the next “Twilight”, but a powerful story of life, survival, discovering hope, and the ever present possibility of Revolution.  The main character, Katniss Everdeen, is a complex character, taking the reader through her deep, and wide, range of thoughts and emotions, as she searches for where she fits in a world filled with such horror; and the reader experiences Katniss’ doubts over her motives for the choices she makes, and her inner struggle as she is reluctantly pushed toward being a hero.

I would highly recommend giving the book a try, and I will be in line to see the movie as soon as possible.  I can’t yet speak for the movie, but I do believe that the book will surprise you.  It is one which is hard to put down, and the only disappointment is that it must reach an end (though take comfort in knowing you still have books two and three to read).

I know that these books have been around a while, and that I am late to jump on the bandwagon, but if you haven’t given these books a try, strongly consider joining us.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards

I am a HUGE movie fan.  There is nothing quite like going to a movie, sitting with an audience, and being transported to another place or time; to take a journey with fellow travelers, as you experience a world outside of reality.  A good movie can excite and inspire, while a great movie can reach deep inside and pull out thoughts and feelings you wouldn’t even admit where there.

I simply can’t get enough of movies.  The shelves at my house are lined with almost 600 alphabetically arranged DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s, waiting to offer a couple hours of deep emotion, profound thought, or simply mindless entertainment.

Now, I don’t write of my movie collection simply to share the number of DVD’s I have, but to express that I LOVE movies.  I love the world of entertainment.  I love stories which speak to the deepest parts of you, and stories which awaken the excitement of the child within.

It is because of my passion for movies, that there is one night that I am excited about every year.  It is one night, when the stars gather and everyone awaits the announcement of who will be triumphant; The Academy Awards.

The Academy Awards are my Super Bowl.

Yet, I have found myself becoming increasingly disappointed over the past couple years.

How can a show, which is entirely devoted to recognizing the top entertainers and entertainment, be so completely UNentertaining?  Why is it that Hollywood can’t seem to pull together and produce a show worthy of the movies they are recognizing?  Why is it that Hollywood seems to believe that Billy Crystal is still relevant to our generation?  It is apparent that they are striving to reach the “Younger Demographic”, as they placed Justin Bieber in the Opening Monologue for the sole purpose of (jokingly?) stating that he is there to get them the “18-24 demographic”, yet the show seems sadly outdated.

The night had its few entertaining moments.  I laughed as Chris Rock spoke about how he doesn’t understand when actors talk about how hard it is to do cartoon voices, and again when Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis (who purposefully mispronounced his own name, since none of us can get it right) played cymbals (and dropped cymbals) while presenting the award for “Best Original Song”.  Also, Robert Downey Jr. didn’t disappoint, as he came out with his own film crew and stated that he was making a documentary called, “The Presenter”.  However, as a whole, the night felt lacking.

I will admit that I will tune in again next year and, whether disappointed or not, I’m sure the year after also, but is it too much to ask that it be something worth tuning in for?  Can Hollywood’s elite please get together, brainstorm, and come up with a way to not only honor The Academy and each other, but also the lowly fans sitting at home, longing to be even slightly entertained, as we watch you receive praise?

After all, where would Hollywood be without the lowly fans?