I saw The Hobbit last Friday night with some of my students. Going in I had mixed feelings – my high hopes were tempered by reminders of previous movies that did not meet the hype. I have to say, I loved nearly every bit of the movie. Sure there was the totally unnecessary cameo by Frodo in the beginning (mostly so people could say, “oooooh, Frodo, I remember him!“), but other than that I enjoyed it.
I have come across a few reviews in recent days that are critical of the film in almost odd ways. I’ve read people who loved Lord of the Rings but complain the Hobbit strays too far from the book, to which the only answer is, “did you read Lord of the Rings?” I’ve seen people complain that a character like Radagast seems unnecessary only to wistfully desire a Tom Bombadill appearance in the next film (again, did you read Lord of the Rings?). Someone complained that many of the dwarves were not developed as characters in the movie, only later to complain that the movie strays from the book. This reviewer must have forgotten that most dwarves are not developed as characters in the book either!
One thing I am thankful for is that the movie confirmed the pronunciation of the dragon, Smaug. You do not say his name as “smog” like the pollution in the air, you say it “smowg” like the sound you make when you stub your toe (owww). Smaug is a dragon who years prior to the film decimated the dwarf kingdom of Erebor. Now a group of dwarves has a plan to defeat the dragon and regain their kingdom, with the help of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. We’ll see how this plays out in the next two films (or just read the book…and the “Quest for Erebor” in the Return of the King appendix).
It may be surprising that a dragon makes an appearance in the Christmas story too. Not in the well-known stories of Jesus’ birth found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but in the final book of the Bible, the mysterious Revelation of John:
12:1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
Right in the middle of this book, in the midst of all sorts of crazy, eye-popping and mind-bending visions, John gives us a glimpse at the birth of Jesus. The woman, probably symbolizing the people of Israel and not specifically Mary, brings forth a child. This child is a threat to the evil powers in the world, so a great dragon seeks to devour him immediately upon his birth. God rescues the child from the threat of evil.
Now the book of Revelation is confusing and open to many interpretations, as anyone who has read it knows. To try to keep it simple then, just think of the common nativity scene. You have Mary and Joseph, the wisemen and shepherds and a cadre of animals all focused on a glowing baby. It is peaceful, idyllic.
What the story in Revelation does is pulls back the curtain to reveal a much deeper conflict behind the scenes. The hope of the world, the light shining in the darkness, is born. Evil in the form of a dragon wants to snuff it out. There is conflict in our world…
Light versus darkness.
A dragon versus a child.
Evil may win some battles. Smaug was successful for a while, and looked unbeatable. In the real world, violence and poverty and sickness and suffering and death look relentless. The message of Christmas is that there is hope, hope that the dragon can and will be defeated, hope for a better world where light triumphs over the darkness.