Thursday, August 17, 2017

Characters of J. R. R. Tolkein's The Hobbit

In J. R. R. Tolkein’s well-known novel The Hobbit, three common types of characters are seen: good ones, evil ones, and ambiguous ones. These can easily be defined based on how they use their powers, skills, or influence. Good characters use these qualities to help their friends and bring justice into the world. Ambiguous characters, as their name implies, do both good and evil things with their power, while evil characters use their powers only to exalt themselves and bring others low.





The good characters are those who use their power and skill to help their friends. Bilbo Baggins the hobbit is the foremost of these, working diligently to save the dwarves from the many perils that beset them. Despite their ingratitude, Bilbo keeps working with them. His heart is for peace, and he gives Bard and the Elvenking the magnificent jewel known as the Arkenstone in an attempt to resolve disputes about the treasure of Smaug.





Perhaps the most well-known hero of Middle-Earth is Gandalf. He uses his wisdom and skills to help others. In this story, the others are the company of dwarves with the hobbit. His knowledge of woodland creatures comes to their aid, as does his valor in battle.





Elrond of the Elves is another hero, but in a different way than Gandalf or Bilbo. Elrond is a hospitable, generous, merry and wise elf whose house is open to travellers. Whether you liked “food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all,” Elrond’s house possessed it (Tolkein 61). Lavishly he bestows gifts on the travellers: food, advice, and decryption of the moon-runes on Thorin’s map, without ever a thought of reward.





Ambiguous characters use their powers for both good and evil ends. Thorin Oakenshield is an excellent example of an ambiguous character. We see him fight valiantly against the trolls in defense of his companions. However, Thorin is also consumed by greed when the treasure stolen by Smaug the dragon is recovered. He refuses to give any of it to the Men of Lake-Town, even though their town was destroyed by the dragon. So greedy is he that he determines to fight to keep all the gold to himself, away from Men and their allies the Elves. But Thorin turns from a villain to a hero when he forgets his greed, allying with the Men and Elves to defeat the mighty goblin army. Mortally wounded in the battle, Thorin begs Bilbo for forgiveness before he dies, which Bilbo readily grants.





Another example of an ambiguous character is the Elvenking. When we first meet him, he seems more like an evil character, capturing the Dwarves and locking them in dark dungeons. As the story progresses, we see another side to the Elvenking: he is a just and kindly ruler who does not want to fight the dwarves coming to reinforce Thorin in the Lonely Mountain.





In contrast to the good or even ambiguous characters, evil characters only use their power to enrich themselves without caring whom they hurt. The dragon Smaug the Terrible is the perfect example of this kind of character. After destroying the dwarves’ halls in the Lonely Mountain and the men in the kingdom of Dale, he settles inside the mountain, counting the horde of gold that he has amassed. Not content to ravage the countryside, he tempts Bilbo to turn against his companions the dwarves, cynically observing that “I suppose they are skulking outside and your job is to do all the dangerous work.” (Tolkein 214)





But Smaug is not the only evil character in The Hobbit. The Master of Lake-Town is almost the complete opposite from Smaug, but he is still an evil character. While Smaug is full of rage and powerful destruction, the Master of Lake-Town is cunning and double-dealing. He seeks to escape from Lake-Town as Smaug attacks it, but then proceeds to take a shelter and much of the food left in the wrecked town when the dragon is dead. Despite receiving a large share of unearned gold from Bard the Bowman, the Master refuses to use it to help rebuild the town. Instead, he embezzles it and makes for the wilderness, only to die, deserted by his companions.



Conclusion
The characters in Tolkein’s book The Hobbit come in three easily recognizable types: good, evil, and ambiguous. But these three are not found in Middle-Earth only. It is easy to see people we know who are self-focused like the Master of Lake-Town, or generous like Elrond. Perhaps this explains the reason that The Hobbit has endured as a classic for 80 years: though it is set in a fantasy world with dragons and dwarves, the characters are easily identifiable because we encounter people like them in our everyday lives.



References
Tolkein, J. R. R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine Books-Houghton Mifflin, 1966.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Details and Drinking Glasses

Sometimes we as Christians have a feeling that God is not interested in the mundane details of our lives. Sure, He cares for the big things...like buying a house or marrying a spouse...but not the little things that make up our days. But God does care for all aspects of our lives. The apostle James tells us in his epistle that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17) I was reminded of this aspect of God's character in a recent interaction.

A number of years ago, my family won a pair of drinking glasses as part of a restaurant's promotion. For some reason, I took quite a shine to these particular glasses and used them as much as I could. One broke not too long ago and it always remained in the back of my mind to hunt down some more of this particular type of glass...sometime.


A friend of ours was holding an estate sale for her elderly mother. All sorts of items (mostly crafts and quilting) were to be sold. We took a trip out there and began to poke around. Suddenly I noticed a glass that was almost identical to my favorite. The size and color were slightly different, but the style was exactly the same. In the box there rested another one. This was wonderful news, especially when I noticed that the box was labeled "Free Stuff!"

The two glasses were added to our collection and I was very happy. But this showed me how God loves to give good gifts to His creatures. He lavishes gifts on me--even something considered as mundane as a drinking glass.

"They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures." (Psalm 36:8)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

One of the many covers of Mere Christianity
No copyright infringement intended.
Once, I had been an ideological crusader, dead-set on a certain view of family roles, economics, churches, politics—if you could name it, I had an opinion. After a long and painful chapter in my life, I finally realized the tyrant I was rapidly in the process of becoming. For more on that, read my story With Truth and Grace at http://defendingthelegacy.blogspot.com/2015/12/short-story-with-truth-and-grace.html. Disaster was compounded with disaster, and needless to say, this epoch in my life left me in a tail-spin. What did I believe anyway? Was true Christianity connected to a specific view of church or plans for the creation of a just society? What was essential, and what was personal preference?

Man proposes, but God disposes, says the old adage. God certainly knew exactly what I needed at this juncture, and He provided. I began to read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. My only acquaintance with Lewis’s writings was his Chronicles of Narnia, and I had read one (short) biography on him. However, I regarded these favorably enough to be willing to read Mere Christianity. Here was a Christian theologian whom I respected, and I was interested to read what he said about these issues.

Beginning with the forward, Mere Christianity was exactly what I needed. Here was an author who stated that he was an Anglican, but that more important than a denomination was a belief in Jesus Christ. The book slowly built from a universal human knowledge of right and wrong to a clear and concise explanation of Christian beliefs. Most importantly for me, these were universal Christian beliefs! There was much about the importance of Christ’s death and the importance of faith, hope, love, and prayer. Rather than railing at an anti-Christian culture, Lewis stated that the real enemy we have to fight is our own sinful nature. But the most part of Mere Christianity was Lewis’s joyful expectation of the glories and unspeakable delights of heaven—which, he contends, is something that we have had hints or glimpses into on earth.

If you have not yet read Mere Christianity, please take the time to find it and read it. It is an excellent book to show the basics of Christianity that all Christians have agreed on for almost 2,000 years. Despite its topic and its size, plenty of deep theological topics are contained inside as well.  5/5 stars.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Flag of Armand's Legion (Completely Speculative)

Speculative Armand's Legion flag
Following on my flag reconstructions, here is a completely speculative one for Armand's Legion.  I have never run across any description of this legion's flag, or even if they were issued a flag.  However, we have descriptions/artifacts of the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, the 3rd Continental, and Pulaski's Legion.


But onto the description of this fictional flag.  I chose a red ground as all three Continental cavalry standards (2nd, 3rd, and Pulaski's Legion) have red as their field.  An owl was chosen as an interesting classical symbol (the owl of Minerva) and also to evoke Armand's service with the Chouans in France.  The motto translates to "Vigilance is the price of Liberty," and the owl seemed to suggest vigilance and wakefulness.  The 13 stars and fleur-de-lis is taken from contemporary drawings of United States flags.


If you would like to deploy your wargame unit of Armand's Legion under this standard, please feel free; however, credit and a link back to this post is appreciated :)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Video--Christians Studying History

videoThis is a short (very short) video that I did for a college course I am enrolled in.  In less than two minutes, it touches on the question "How do Christians use their faith to influence their history?"  This topic is one that I am passionate about and I would have liked to write pages and pages on it...but instead the assignment required a 1-2 minute video.  Video recording was done by my sister Amara of Castles in Clouds (www.castlesinclouds.wordpress.com) Enjoy!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Guest Post: Historical Details in War of Loyalties: Life on the Homefront in WW1

A friend of mine, Schuyler M., has written a World War I spy novel called War of Loyalties. She kindly agreed to share the fascinating historical background undergirding her story here on Defending the Legacy.


For the past seven years, I’ve been writing novel entitled War of Loyalties. It’s a Dickensian novel with a spy flavor, and today I’m glad to be invited to Defending the Legacy to talk about some of the historical details in its pages. But before I start, let me set the context with the novel description:

April, 1917. A ring of German spies threatens the security of England’s Secret Service. Newly-recruited agent Ben Dorroll must uncover false British agents who are traitors to their country. However, Ben’s secrecy may be the very thing that puts their mission in jeopardy. Unwilling to trust fellow agent Jaeryn Graham with the clues hidden in his family’s broken past, he wants to resign and go back to his medical practice. But success means one last chance at winning the respect of the father he’s never met. And when he learns that his family identity holds the key to capturing the spy ring, Ben has no choice but to unite with Jaeryn Graham so that the truth can be discovered.

In the aftermath of the Irish Rebellion, Jaeryn Graham's British colleagues look warily on his Irish background. Always up for a challenge, he thinks his new mission to investigate the true loyalties of his fellow spies should be an opportunity to prove his prowess. But the agents he has to work with are determined to prove he himself is a traitor. Unless he can win the loyalties of his newest assistant, Ben Dorroll, his secret ambitions and his perfect success record will be destroyed.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Grace Triumphant--Reprise

In January of this year, I reviewed Alicia Willis's 18th Century novel Grace Triumphant (see the original review at http://defendingthelegacy.blogspot.com/2017/01/review-of-grace-triumphant-by-alicia.html).  I thoroughly enjoyed it when I read it, and as time has passed, I noticed yet another gem tucked inside the story.






The book follows three characters: Captain Russell Lawrence, cabin boy Jack Dunbar, and English aristocrat Elizabeth Grey.  The narrative is told from the point of view of each of these three characters and the author does an excellent job of never allowing the characters to know each others' thoughts, though we as the readers can get inside the minds of all three.  Jack Dunbar's story quickly links up with Russell Lawrence's, and their two points of view then focus on the same events: a pirate attack, for example, is seen by both.






But Elizabeth Grey is different.  We see high-society London through her eyes, and her eyes alone.  We have no way of analyzing her character from the perspective of an outsider.  All her actions are peppered with nagging doubts and prayers that she will be found true to her convictions.  This sort of internal struggle is something I greatly sympathize with: trying to do the right thing, but knowing one's weaknesses and fearing that they will taint the good we are trying to accomplish.




But eventually, we see Elizabeth as others see her: a fine example of a godly Christian woman.   While her internal struggles have been real, they have not hindered her good works or others' good opinion of her.  I found this encouraging.  Even though our good works may be tainted by our weaknesses and sins, these works will still shape our character into what we were created to be--reflections of the goodness of our Creator.  "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)