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Look for spiritual symbolism when 'The Hobbit' opens

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The Rev. Adam Knapp will be looking for more than entertainment when he goes to the see the movie “The Hobbit,” which opens Friday.

The Hope native and former sportswriter for The Republic will be watching for distinct Christian symbolism in director Peter Jackson’s latest film adaptation of the late J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy about the inhabitants of Middle Earth.

In the film, Bilbo Baggins and 13 dwarves embark on a great quest to reclaim their people’s treasure from the marauding dragon Smaug.

“I always invite people (at my Tolkien Bible studies) to find these symbols for themselves,” said Knapp, speaking by phone from his Center Point United Methodist Church in Fredericksburg, Texas. “And often, people will find things that I have missed.”

Knapp, a longtime fan and follower of Tolkien’s writing, has taught on the subject of such symbolism in his sermons and studies here, in Texas, and elsewhere. Even his Twitter profile photo features a shot of a Tolkien book.

Though he hasn’t had a chance to screen the movie, he fully expects that the average moviegoer can watch for several signs of Christian faith such as:

The character of the wizard Gandalf as a Christ figure. “He is Christ-like in terms of his authority and wisdom,” Knapp said. “And he often speaks wisdom that the hobbits are not quite ready to hear.”

The Shire, the hobbit’s land, as a kind of Garden of Eden. “It’s full of innocence and purity and safety,” Knapp said. “Life is really about joy there.”

Bilbo, the film’s protagonist, showing mercy to the evil, plotting character of Gollum. “It reflects the Bible’s idea of the mercy of the righteous extended to the lost,” Knapp said.

The power of fellowship. “The dwarves have this wonderful idea of kinship,” Knapp said. He said their struggle with the elves and humans also hints at a more broad theme of racism.

Plenty of others, such as Asbury University English Professor Devin Brown, find symbolism in Tolkien’s godly overtones.

Brown teaches a class on Tolkien at the Christian school, and he also has lectured worldwide on the author, and just released a book, “The Christian World of ‘The Hobbit’” (Abingdon Press, $14.99).

He said that many people exposed to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in books and film often notice particular elements.

“There are aspects of this imaginary tale that feel very familiar,” Brown said.

He said his book is meant to help readers “walk away understanding and appreciating how Tolkien’s faith played a key role in shaping this classic story.”

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