In anticipation of the upcoming release of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Hobbit, I pulled my tattered copy off of the shelf. Furtively, I knocked on the door of my childhood imagination, filled with dwarves I named my kittens after, dragons I fought in the dark, and paths I forged through the Middle Earth I discovered in my forest. The door I opened was not the door I knocked upon: the door I passed through as a child was unlocked by eyes still clinging to the remnants of innocence, while now my eyes read the story of Bilbo in a new way, longing for keys engineered by the reawakening of innocence.
The Hobbit, in the most simplistic synopsis, is the story of the small becoming big, a growth that begins with a venture. Unaccustomed to adventure, Bilbo is reluctant to leave the familiar, the understood, and the comforting; yet it is the departure from the familiar that awakens in Bilbo an innocence, caused by the vulnerable excitement of adventure. This is not the innocence of a child and tabula rasa, or blank slate, but rather, a reawakening of the possibility to be molded by change. In this awakening of innocence and change, lies the possibility of Bilbo the Took, or Bilbo the fool, to emerge. Thus, a venture into newness must be experienced within the remembrance of the familiar. “‘Where did you go to, if I may ask?’ said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along. ‘To look ahead,’ said he. ‘And what brought you back in the nick of time?’ ‘Looking behind,’ said he.” It is this venture to the unknown with one eye looking behind that leads to greatness, to redemption.
Change need not be feared. In this time of anticipation for Christmas, we anticipate the most emphatic reawakening of innocence, of change. God calls us to venture, leading to a reawakening of innocence. As John Henry Newman claimed, “No one among us knows for certain that he himself will persevere; yet every one among us, to give himself even a chance of success at all, must make a venture.” With the birth of our redemption, there comes a new era. An era where we, like Bilbo, can begin an adventure finding ourselves “doing and saying things altogether unexpected.” As I turned the pages of The Hobbit, my eyes did not unlock the same doors as my childhood imagination; however, my eyes did unlock the anticipation of change, of redemption, and of adventure.