The Lion, the Witch, and the Hobbit: Sin & Grace with Tolkien & Lewis
This article was initially submitted to the Tolkien & Lewis contest hosted by Aquinas College. Although not a finalist entry, Seton staff believed it interesting enough to share with the Bayley Bulletin community.
One could imagine the renowned authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien sitting down together one fine evening in the grand library of Oxford University to outline two of their most famous literary works, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit, respectively.
Perhaps they would discuss their present literary endeavor and share their thoughts in a long and engaging conversation. Each author wrote a unique novel, possessing its own conflict and plot.
Yet, after reading these novels, one would think that Lewis and Tolkien had written them together because they incorporated many similar ideas into their storylines.
In Lewis’ novel, four children, named Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie, walk through a magical wardrobe into the land of Narnia, which is ruled by the wicked White Witch and is waiting to be redeemed by the true lion king, Aslan.
Tolkien has his main character, Bilbo, the hobbit, literally race out his door to join a dangerous quest with thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, in a wild land that is ridden with evil creatures.
As the main characters walk through the doors of adventure into mythical worlds, Lewis and Tolkien bring their readers into the supernatural realm of the soul’s earthly quest for Heaven.
Lewis and Tolkien incorporate into these novels various examples of the need for fortitude and of the existence of sin and grace in the epic spiritual journey of the soul.
Fortitude: The Mission for Heaven
The fortitude that a soul must possess throughout its earthly endeavor towards Heaven is greatly emphasized by Lewis and Tolkien throughout both of their novels. Both the four Pevensie children and Bilbo unexpectedly stumble upon a mission on which they are destined to embark and are hesitant and fearful at the prospect of leaving their comfortable lives and facing life-threatening dangers.
Susan fearfully suggests that they leave Narnia immediately, while Bilbo is thrown into a panic attack at the thought of never returning home. In the end, however, both parties decide to choose the noble quest instead of the cowardly option of staying at home.
This choice of bravery is parallel to that which must be chosen in the spiritual life; as one local parish priest stated in his homily, a person must come out of his comfort zone to be able to follow Christ.
One must also be heroically on guard for and fight temptations with continual perseverance. For instance, the four children continually attempt to avoid the evil White Witch (the personification of sin) despite growing fatigue on their journey to Stone Table. Bilbo and his party of dwarves trek the lands of their world for many tiring miles, fighting the evil attacks of trolls, goblins, Wargs, and giant spiders. In addition, a character from each novel proves that he has the courage to take on his enemies single-handedly.
Peter slays a wolf that was attempting to murder his sister and is named a knight by the King of Narnia himself, Aslan. Bilbo also displays courage when he slays a giant spider with his sword, Sting, before the menacing creature could bind him in threads: “He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder.”
These examples signify the moment when the soul matures and is ready to fight evil as a soldier for Christ when one receives the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Furthermore, both the creatures of Narnia, under the leadership of Peter, and the army of dwarves, elves, and eagles of Middle-earth fight valiantly against their enemies in vigorous and bloody wars. These scenes represent the souls of all those who are battling sin and evil. The novels of both Lewis and Tolkien emphasize the need to exercise the virtue of fortitude throughout one’s spiritual battles.
Describing the noble virtue of fortitude does not hinder either Lewis or Tolkien from readily portraying the struggles of mankind with sin. For instance, the soul is counseled not to dabble with the allurements of sin. Edmund becomes arrogant and hungers for worldly pleasures when he allows himself to be enticed by the false generosity of the White Witch.
Bilbo himself falls into a temporary mistrust of his friends and feels strangely compelled to give himself over to the enemy when he allows himself to come into a seemingly civil conversation with the evil dragon, Smaug.
Greed: Allure and Entrapment
The soul also must be wary not to be tempted by the entrapments of the sin of greed. For example, Edmund avariciously revels in the promise of the White Witch to make him her heir as regent of Narnia and in the fact that he will be ranked higher than his older brother, Peter. Thorin himself struggles with the allurements of greed in regards to his newly recovered wealth. He is unwilling to pay the citizens of Lake Town for the supplies that were generously given to the dwarves to complete their quest.
He even turns against Bilbo, who has attempted to make peace between the two parties. The consequences of Edmund’s and Thorin’s greed are also described. Edmund’s folly results in a great war and is paid for by the death of the noble lion, Aslan. Thorin displays an obstinate willingness to wage war with the hospitable hosts of Long Lake and their great allies, the elves. The battle would have occurred had it not been interrupted by an attack by the wicked goblins.
However, both transgressors repent of their misdeeds. Edmund is liberated from the hold of the White Witch after a private conversation with Aslan in which he repents and apologizes for his offense. In the war against the Witch’s evil forces, a new sense of heroic virtue invigorates Edmund as he turns against his former ally and destroys her magic wand. Though he is wounded, his maneuver is the turning point of the battle.
Thorin himself is mortally wounded in the Battle of Five Armies that ensues against the goblins. Just before he dies, he apologizes to Bilbo and acknowledges his faults, saying,
“Farewell, good thief…Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds…If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
By addressing the topic of temptation and sin, Lewis and Tolkien paint a realistic picture of the constant struggles of the soul, but give the soul hope for repentance and a chance to return to the merciful God.
Graces: Gifts from God, Gandalf and Aslan
In addition to the realities of sin, the lives of the characters of Lewis and Tolkien are surrounded by divine graces and blessings that can be compared to those received by the human soul.
The four Pevensie children are guided to the Stone Table by the generous Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who provide them with food and well-hidden resting places. Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves are guided by the wise wizard Gandalf. He offers them the safest routes and saves them from peril more than once on their dangerous adventures.
God provides many guides in the life of the soul as well, such as loving parents, confessors, and faithful friends. Furthermore, both the four children and Bilbo’s treasure-seeking party are warmly welcomed by various hosts along their journey. The Beavers kindly take the hungry Pevensie children into their humble home, where they feast on a filling supper and are introduced to their mission to help save Narnia from the White Witch.
Similarly, Bilbo and the dwarves travel to the valley of Rivendell to take refuge at the Last Homely House. They are generously received by their host, Elrond, and are replenished with food and rest. They even receive information from Elrond that is crucial to the recovery of the dwarves’ vast treasure. Additionally, the Narnian party of human children and beavers are pleasantly visited by Father Christmas himself on the journey to Stone Table.
Peter, Susan, and Lucy (sadly, Edmund had deserted them to join the White Witch by this time) receive special gifts that are “tools not toys.” Peter is gifted with a sword and shield; Susan with a bow and arrows and an ivory horn; and Lucy with a dagger and a cordial of healing juice. The jolly old man also provides hot tea to the weary and cold travelers.
Hospitality is shown to Bilbo’s party in a similar way at the residence of the fierce Beorn. They receive a good meal, safe lodging, provisions, trustworthy directions, and even the use of his beloved ponies. Toward the end of the characters’ journeys in both novels, a royal welcome is bestowed as well.
Susan and Lucy are served as royal ladies by Aslan’s courtiers, and Peter immediately assumes the responsibility as a notable leader of the Narnian army. Likewise, Thorin and his company are welcomed by the citizens of Lake Town as the legendary dwarves that are to restore wealth to their city.
These townspeople generously provide, from their own resources, for the comfort of Bilbo and the dwarves. These many related instances of hospitality represent the supernatural graces of the sacraments, especially those of the Holy Eucharist, which is the Bread of Life Itself. The sacraments give the soul life and assistance in its difficult journey towards God.
Finally, Lewis and Tolkien point out that great forces lie on the side of those who strive for good and fight against evil. In Narnia, an army of creatures unfrozen from the bonds of the White Witch’s statue spell come to the aid of Peter’s dwindling army.
In addition to numerous reinforcements, both the Giant Rumblebuffin and Aslan himself fight as crucial forces in the defeat of the White Witch. The enemy is crushed under the giant’s feet and the Witch is killed by the mighty lion. T
horin’s dwarf relatives, led by Dain, also prove helpful in the defeat of the goblins, “for he has many people well-armed…a good many of them have had experience in the dreadful dwarf and goblin wars.”
Beorn and the eagles also unexpectedly intervene in the battle against the goblins at crucial times and play an important part in the goblins’ total downfall. In a moment when it seems all is lost, Beorn fiercely breaks into the fray and kills Bolg, the leader of the goblins, and the eagles pursue the fleeing army.
The Church Through Characters
Christians must remember that great forces lie on their side as well. The vast number of fellow Christians on earth in the Church Militant, the Blessed Mother (who crushes the devil under her feet), all the saints in the Church Triumphant, the angels, and God Himself are great aids to those who strive for holiness. Souls are inspired to be hopeful in their spiritual quest to Heaven as they read of the similar experiences of Tolkien’s and Lewis’ characters.
The need for noble courage and the realities of both sin and grace are revealed in Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Fortitude is crucial to the victory of both novels, just as it is crucial to the heavenly victory of the soul.
Nevertheless, the soul must be aware of and strive to avoid sin, as is demonstrated by the harsh experiences of both authors’ characters.
The soul must not become weary, however, for God will arm him with plentiful graces to lead him on his earthly pilgrimage, just as Lewis and Tolkien vividly express in both plots.
Let the soul fight then against the evils in the world and strive for the goodness and holiness only God can bring to the world.
About Juliana Silva
Juliana Silva is in the eleventh grade and have been homeschooled through Seton since the sixth grade. I am the oldest of five siblings and have taken on my first job this past year. I love playing the piano and singing in my parish choir and at VBS with my best friend,my sister. I also enjoy photography, reading books, showing cows, and crocheting. I love exploring my beautiful state of California, from visiting the historic missions along cool coastlines, to hiking through the gigantic trees of the Sequoias, to gazing at the amazing art and architecture of the Capitol Building in Sacramento (and, yes, I have been to Disneyland). I use my spurts of creativity to sketch, write, create unique crafts, and plan anything that triggers my imagination.