Lessons about Evil from The Hobbit

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After seeing tonight for the first time The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I was reminded at how insightfully and realistically J.R.R. Tolkien portrays the nature of evil throughout his tales of Middle Earth.  Peter Jackson remains faithful to this vision still, I believe, in the Hobbit film trilogy. What does this most recent installment of the film series remind us about the nature of evil?  A few basic thoughts:

1. Evil prefers largely to remain hidden – concealed from plain sight.

Gandalf leaves the company to investigate reports of a gathering darkness at the abandoned fortress of Dol Guldur, the effects of which have become plainly and disturbingly evident in the sickened forest of Mirkwood.  His suspicions are confirmed when he discovers that the hidden tombs of the nine Ringwraiths (the Black Riders in LOTR) have been emptied.  When he arrives at Dol Guldur, he realizes that its emptiness is an illusion resulting from a concealment spell.  When he uses his own magic power to reverse its effects, he decries that these forces have been mustering discreetly, escaping his and other guardians of Middle Earth’s notice.

Jesus’ teaching on the nature of darkness resonates: “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19)  Evil flourishes only when it is concealed; light exposes and weakens it.  Thus, in describing the coming of Jesus (the eternal Word) into the world, the apostle John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

To drive this point home, consider the ways you have covered up, or continue to cover up, things that are contrary to your conscience.  This might take the form of surrounding yourself with people who will only affirm you in your behavior and never confront you to hold you accountable.  We learn such behaviors at the earliest age.  My 2 year old just this week was caught multiple times hiding on the table (not well concealed at all!) gorging herself on candy she knew she was not supposed to have.

2. While it remain hidden, it gains strength until it is too powerful to overcome.

As Gandalf uncovers the evil that has been hidden, the Orc-chief (the white one that is not in the book and whom I wish they had not added to the movie) tells him that he is too late.  The forces of evil have gathered enough strength that they are powerful enough to unleash themselves on the world (in the form of a massive army of Orcs). Gandalf encounters the Necromancer, who pre-figures the dark lord Sauron, who is described as “growing stronger day by day.”

Once evil is strong enough to reveal itself for what it is, its power is to great to fight without great cost and destruction. It is much easier to combat when it is timidly hiding in the darkness, slowly gaining strength.

Think about times when little sins in your own life grew and grew until you became slave to this sin, unable to stop even though you knew how destructive it could be. This also happens at the societal level.  The forces working to undermine marriage in this country have just recently begun to show their true, gruesome nature, but they have been working subtly under far more tolerable guises for decades.  Now that the forces have been revealed, they are unleashing a torrent of destruction that is extremely difficult to stop.

I think about my 20-yr old brother who died last year as a direct result of his enslavement to addiction.  The evil in his life became evident to plain sight three or more years earlier.  But the origins of it are much earlier in his life.  I remember feeling disturbed and angry whenever I would see his childish acts of evil (mostly disrespectful, profane kind of behavior) go undisciplined, but instead laughed at and reveled in.  I knew that if evil was not driven out of him as a child, when its presence was largely concealed by a “cute” boyhood guise, it would cause much pain and grief in the future when its true nature came to fruition.

3. Evil works from the inside out; not from the outside in.

This point emerges from comments in this film, and the last one, about how the greed of the dwarf king (Thror, grandfather of Thorin Oakenshield) attracted or enticed the dragon Smaug to invade the kingdom of Erebor.  As the king’s lust for gold became insatiable, the dwarfs unearthed far more gold than they could ever need or have use for.  But it wasn’t just the increase in wealth that attracted the dragon.  It is not as if the dwarfs were innocently going about their mining business when they suddenly became the victims of a wicked monster.  The kingdom had become weakened from within from moral corruption, which made them more vulnerable to external attack.

One gets the impression that the dragon is an external manifestation of the king’s deep internal greed.  This idea is more directly conveyed in the book.  After watching the movie, while combing the book for comparisons, I came across this passage describing Smaug’s reaction to Bilbo’s taking of just one gold cup from his treasure hoard: “His rage passes description – the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted.”  Sounds like the essence of greed!

This theme also resonates with Jesus’ teaching that the human heart is the wellspring of evil: For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).  Evil on the outside of us, when it is visible, originates on the inside of us, when it is invisible but easier to defeat by bringing light to bear upon it.

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