J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbits Contemplate the Nativity

Despite the chaos, everyone has a merry Christmas.

(photo: Pixabay/CC0)

St. Ignatius Loyola created a set of meditations known as the “Spiritual Exercises.” One of these “exercises” focuses on the great love Christ showed by being born at “the Nativity.”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits appear to participate in this meditation. The Nativity components seem to be cleverly embedded in The Fellowship of the Ring storyline. The reader can follow this meditation by looking past the fairytale and focusing on what is actually happening.

To start, Tolkien provides three kings when Bombadil releases the four hobbits from a barrow. Three stand “crowned,” but Frodo is crownless. This is because Tolkien needs only three kings for the meditation.

The hobbits walk toward lights that twinkle at night, as if following a special star.

The hobbits arrive at the gates of Bree. They meet “Harry at the gate” who questions them like Herod the Great questioned the Three Kings. Harry’s formal name is probably “Harold.” “Harold at the gate” rhyming with “Herod the Great.” 

Harry’s suspicions were like Herod’s suspicions toward the Three Kings. Harry watches as the hobbits head to a crowded inn whose nickname is “house of Bree.” A crowded “inn” is central to the Nativity story and “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread” in Hebrew.

The travelers hear a chorus of joyful singing. One wonders if it is a choir of angels.

The hobbits encounter workers having the attributes of angels. They “hover,” “deliver messages” and “respond to bells.” One is short, fat, bald, red-cheeked, and dressed in white, like cherubim on a Valentine card. He disappears in a babel of voices and a “veil of fire and smoke” like cherubim in the Holy of Holies. Another seems to have numerous eyes and six wings like a biblical seraphim.

A servant yells “Nob” and “Bob.”  “Nob Bob” sounds like “Nabob,” a moniker for wise men. He then calls someone “wooly-foot” as if he has shepherd clothing.

The servants carry hot water and sheets, traditional preparations for childbirth.

People are “making lists” and “genealogies” as if taking a census.

Frodo sings about farm animals, like those in a manger.

At night all is “still” and “silent” like the Christmas song “Silent Night.”  

Alone and ignored is “Strider.”  His legs are stretched out in the manner that a baby rests. He appears in “swaddling clothes” like Jesus. Strider wears “supple” knee boots. Tolkien was a World War I infantry officer who wore supple knee boots too. These boots had shoes with “swaddling” leather strips wrapping upward to the knee.

Strider is “older than he looks,” “chooses to appear different than he is,” is “a hunter,” and “can avoid being seen.” The same goes for Jesus. He looks younger than an ageless God, is a hunter (Tolkien’s favorite poet describes Jesus using “hounds” to hunt souls), and can avoid being.

Regarding Strider’s name, Tolkien created names by jumbling the letters and sounds of words. The word “Hobbit” came from the German “Holbytla.” His wife’s pet name “Luthien Tinuviel,” likely came from her real name “Edith Tolkien.”

It is plausible that “Strider” came from the German word “Der Christus” (“The Christ”).

Strider, like Jesus, had “no room at the inn.”  Strider warned the hobbits not to sleep in their rooms, but he has no room to share. They end up on the parlor floor.

Strider offers his life or death to “save” the hobbits. Jesus chose life, then death to save souls. Strider says he would never make someone follow him, and wants someone to believe without proofs. Jesus never compels us to follow Him, and desires belief without proofs. Strider and Jesus both state that we must trust them to be “saved.”

As the hobbits’ faith grows, there is “a knocking at the door,” much as the Bible states faith comes when Jesus knocks.

As further proof, Strider offers a poem containing “wanderers who are not lost,” “gold,” “burnt ashes,” “roots untouched by frost,” and “a line that is renewed.” The poem applies to Jesus and the Three Kings. The Three Kings wandered, but were not lost. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense (which is burnt to ashes) and myrrh (having roots untouched by frost). The gifts went to Jesus, a descendent of a line thought broken.

Next, Strider displays the hilt of a broken sword. The hilt would look like a cross.

Strider states “when Frodo believes, Strider expects something.”  Frodo responds with a question that can be read to ask if Strider expects Frodo to “pray.”

Frodo then looks out a window (at stars) as if verifying they are beneath the star that guided the kings.

One might ask “where were Mary and Joseph?” It appears Tolkien cleverly introduced them in earlier chapters.

Mary was a pure Jewish girl who was “expecting” the child Jesus. Mary is much like Goldberry, a pure, elf queen, who is “expecting.”   It is not obvious that Goldberry is “expecting” because Tolkien uses the German expression “waiting.” Germans say a woman is “waiting” on a child. We repeatedly hear “Goldberry is waiting.”  She is likely “expecting.”

If Goldberry is Mary, then Tom must be the Holy Spirit. He has the attributes of the Holy Spirit. Tom is “Eldest,” and saw the first acorn, raindrop, river and tree. He also carries lilies which were related to Joseph’s selection as Mary’s guardian.

Tom’s nickname is “Iarwain.” Most would incorrectly pronounce “Iarwain” as “I are Wayne.” Tolkien’s Appendix “E” shows how Middle Earth letters are pronounced. The “I” in “Iarwain” is pronounced as “Y” in “you.”  When “ar” is added, it sounds like “Yah.” “Wain” is pronounced “way.” “Iarwain” would be pronounced “Yahweh” (The Holy Spirit’s Hebrew name).

Jesus was threatened by Herod who plotted murder to ensure Christ would never reign. Harry does the same. He conspires with the Nazgul to murder the hobbits.

To avoid Harry, the hobbits fled into the wilderness much as Jesus’ family fled into the wilderness. Strider took the south gate because Harry guarded the west gate. This is reminiscent of the Three Kings leaving by a route that avoided Herod.

Despite the chaos, everyone has a merry Christmas. As they leave Bree, they say they hope to return when “things are Merry again” — which concludes an apparent meditation on Christ’s birth, and completes a portion of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises.”