(RNS) -- Travel along, if you dare, with Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit -- either in J.R.R.Tolkien's beloved 1937 novel, or through the first installment of Peter Jackson's film trilogy based on the book, which opened in theaters December 14.
If you do, you will, essentially, be traveling in a world constructed on Christian principles, says Devin Brown, a professor of English at Asbury University, a Christian liberal arts college near Lexington, Ky.
But that doesn't mean The Hobbit should be taken as a kind of subliminally evangelistic work. Brown, for one, will enjoy the film for its own sake as a terrific adventure. But, he said, understanding the work in the context of Tolkien's deep Christian faith can give a deeper appreciation of the tale.
"Tolkien once wrote a friend, 'I am a Christian, and whatever I write will come from that essential viewpoint,'" Brown said.
The Hobbit centers around the diminutive Baggins, "an everyman who has no ability, a total dolt who has no skills," as Jane Chance, professor emeritus of English at Rice University and editor of Tolkien and the Invention of Myth, put it.
At the beginning, it is not clear why the reluctant Baggins has been tapped to help lead the Dwarves' grand adventure. Baggins "does not know his ability," Chance said, "but he knows he has the character to develop into the kind of hero who can rescue a civilization."
Brown, whose book, The Christian World of the Hobbit, was published in October by Abingdon Press, teaches a class at Asbury on the works of Tolkien and his close friend, Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. He was also one of the consultants on the third movie made in the Narnia franchise, Lewis' Christian allegories aimed at children.
Tolkien, he said, was among the influences in Lewis' life that helped the former atheist open his heart to God.
"There's a famous walk they took," Brown said from his home near Lexington. "Tolkien said to Lewis, 'You like these stories, these myths that tell us who we are and why we are here from Icelandic and the Nordic countries -- from everywhere but from the New Testament. Maybe you should think of the stories in the New Testament as myths that became true.'"
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