A Hobbit Journey

Discovering the Enchantment of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth

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The Lord of the Rings trilogy has delighted millions of fans worldwide in book and movie form. With the theatrical release of the two-part film The Hobbit slated for 2012 and 2013, attention will once again turn to J. R. R. Tolkien's classic works. In a culture where truth is relative and morality is viewed as old-fashioned, we welcome the chance to view the world through hobbit eyes: we have free will, our choices matter, and living a morally heroic life is possible.

In this engaging and thought-provoking book, Tolkien expert Matthew Dickerson shows how a Christian worldview and Christian themes undergird Tolkien's Middle-earth writings and how they are fundamentally important to understanding his vision. This revised and expanded edition of Following Gandalf includes new material on torture, social justice, and the importance of the body.
1. On Hobbits, the Treatment of Prisoners, and the Ethics of War
2. Epic Battles
3. Frodo and the Wisdom of the Wise
4. Military Victory or Moral Victory?
5. Human Freedom and Creativity
6. The Gift of Ilúvatar and the Power of the Ring
7. Moral Responsibility and Stewardship
8. The Seen and the Unseen: Salvation and Social Justice
9. A Shift in Tone: Free Will and the Hand of Ilúvatar
10. Ilúvatar's Theme and the Real War


"What are the costs of military victory? Is mercy sometimes too expensive? Can torture ever be justified? Are there any moral absolutes in a world of competing faiths and cultures? Matt Dickerson's A Hobbit Journey traces these and many other issues through their surprisingly detailed presentation in Tolkien's fiction. If anyone should still doubt Tolkien's applicability and relevance to the twenty-first century, this is the book to put in their hands."

Thomas Shippey, author of J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

"Most fantasy novels are like amusement parks--full of familiar sights, sounds, smells, and thrills. But J. R. R. Tolkien's stories, which have inspired legions of imitators, offer much more than amusement. They are countries full of treasure that will go undiscovered and unappreciated unless we learn how to be attentive treasure hunters. Matthew Dickerson writes as one who has spent his summers in the Shire, hiked every trail in Mirkwood Forest, taken counsel from Gandalf, and argued with Gollum and Smaug. It's as though he sharpened the tools of his intellect in deep conversation with Tolkien himself. He will prove to be a thought-provoking guide through Middle-earth whether you're a frequent visitor there or a newcomer ready for the adventure of a lifetime."

Jeffrey Overstreet, author of Auralia's Colors and Through a Screen Darkly

"A Hobbit Journey instantly engages readers with its combination of scholarly knowledge and love for J. R. R. Tolkien's work. Matthew Dickerson resists imposing his own rigid, limiting thesis and instead interprets the text by simply pointing out to fellow readers what is there. In doing so he illuminates the power of Tolkien's stories to challenge, delight, and transform us."

Colin Duriez, author of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship and J. R. R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend

"A Hobbit Journey is a grand accomplishment: a thoughtful exploration of the virtues and values that sustain the heartbeat of Tolkien's Middle-earth. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I expect that you will too."

Diana Pavlac Glyer, author of The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community

The Author

  1. Matthew Dickerson

    Matthew Dickerson

    Matthew Dickerson (PhD, Cornell University) is professor of computer science and environmental studies at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, and a popular speaker on Tolkien. He directs the New England Young Writers' Conference at Bread Loaf and is the...

    Continue reading about Matthew Dickerson


"Through his own close readings of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, Dickerson examines the lessons we can learn from hobbits and their vision of the Good Life, relating those lessons to our own lives."

Publishers Weekly

"[Dickerson] explores the philosophical and moral messages in Tolkien's writing. Citing The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and letters, essays, and other texts, Dickerson discusses Tolkien's ideas about morality, society, and justice as reflected in his writing about Middle-earth. The author identifies Tolkien's Christian inspiration as revealed in his fiction. . . . Throughout, Dickerson uses numerous examples from Tolkien's works as well as references to Peter Jackson's movie adaptations and real-world parallels. . . . He writes in a manner both scholarly and accessible that many Tolkien readers will like."

Jennifer Harris,

Library Journal

"Dickerson's virtue is not that he avoids political, philosophical, and religious lessons. He highlights quite a few. But he finds them by paying close attention to the details of plot, character, diction, and texture in Tolkien's writing. . . . Dickerson gives us a book we can sink our teeth into. It is a revision and expansion of his earlier work Following Gandalf. . . . The new material . . . is worthwhile. It updates the argument, deals with studies published in the last decade, and rounds the discussion out in useful ways. . . . Wrestling with significant questions as they are raised and answered by details of plot and texture of passage, Dickerson shows a profound understanding of what literature is and therefore of how it should be studied. . . . One comes away . . . with a renewed appreciation for the story itself, in the way this discussion highlights the nature and the audacity of the risks Gandalf and others take in order to preserve their moral vision. What could be better than that?"

Donald T. Williams,

Tolkien Journal

"Dickerson explores a range of themes in Tolkien's Middle-earth writings; however, he does not limit himself to literary elements or character analysis. Throughout the book, he points beyond the narrative and its characters and events to the author and his worldview, making the claim that Tolkien's Middle-earth narrative present[s] his own philosophies. . . . The final chapter . . . explores the extent to which Tolkien's Middle-earth writings are Christian in nature. While I appreciated every part of Dickerson's discussion throughout the book, even where I disagreed with some of his conclusions, I think this chapter is especially well-nuanced and balanced. . . . If Dickerson's claim about authors and their philosophies is true, then Tolkien didn't have to set out to create a Christian tale--he couldn't help but do so, insofar as the events and characters and values portrayed therein quite naturally embody the author's lifelong faith. I for one feel this leaves us with stories much richer and deeper and more beautiful than if Tolkien had intentionally fashioned a tale around his own faith. Matthew Dickerson has contributed a scholarly, yet accessible, exploration of Middle-earth and Tolkien himself that also clearly demonstrates his own love for this body of work."

Timothy Stege,

Englewood Review of Books

"Serious students of Tolkien will enjoy Dickerson's in-depth treatment of many literary and theological themes."

John Bernstein,

CBA Retailers + Resources

"There are plenty of books about Tolkien, and many seem very interesting and rewarding. This is extraordinary, though, bringing the deepest questions of Middle Earth to contemporary ethical issues."

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds BookNotes blog

"This is solid stuff, very helpful, fun, beautifully-written, absorbing, and truly inspiring as we attempt to live morally heroic, Christ-like lives. What is so interesting about this is how seamlessly Dickerson weaves together contemporary social ethics--from justice issues to questions about the body--and the Tolkien narratives. A great book like this . . . is worth some kind of medal."

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds BookNotes blog

"Matthew Dickerson has done a wonderful job. A Hobbit Journey is a more indepth consideration of Tolkien's world. Dickerson examines the breadth of Tolkien's writing including his three major works (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion) and also his letters and other scholarly works. If you love Tolkien and are wanting a good jumping point into the secondary literature Dickerson's work is a great start. . . . Dickerson journeys throughout Tolkien's work and mines out the major themes and morals of Middle Earth. He is thoughtful when doing so treading carefully so as to make any of the characters or themes allegorical (something Tolkien was adamant about)."

Mathew Sims,

Grace for Sinners blog

"Provides a great deal of food for thought. . . . Exploring such important--and timely--issues as torture and war, freedom and responsibility, Dickerson's oft-repeated refrain is that for Tolkien, a military victory is less important than a moral victory. . . . I had a difficult time putting this book down and recommend it highly."

Fr. Daren J. Zehnle,

Servant and Steward blog

"Dickerson's approach is to bring Middle-earth to the place we call home and he does an admirable job. . . . . Not only is much interpretation done through the eyes of multiple passages of the text itself, but this is liberally complemented by the personal words of Tolkien. One of the things I appreciate the most is the obvious way in which the author shows his own love for these stories. . . . Dickerson has written a book that is both engaging and compelling. For many readers they will see more in Middle-earth than they ever knew existed. While I can heartily recommend this title to any Tolkien fan, the reality is the better you know 'Middle-earth' the more you will enjoy The Hobbit Journey."

Jeff Lonsinger,

Pastor Jeff's Ramblings blog

"This is a book for a real Tolkien fan, not so much for a casual reader, as it is an in-depth study of the main themes--and brings into the discussion many elements and topic areas--both of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Silmarillion. It manages to tie in historical themes, the era in which Tolkien wrote, and contemporary viewpoints in a seamless narrative and provides some truly fascinating discussion about the treatment of prisoners in Middle Earth and in our own times post 9/11 and the ethical issues, morality, and indeed the spiritual nature of warfare. . . . A hugely important book in the Tolkien field, this is a complex and satisfying volume which will repay slow and careful reading with frequent reference back to the original texts."

Sian Williams,

The Garden Window blog