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‘The Hobbit’ Story Group 7: Queer Lodgings

Tolkien introduces Beorn the non-“were-bear,” a creature of vague loyalties and mixed methods.

poster_thehobbitthedesolationofsmaugOne year ago The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ended just before this chapter begins. My church reading group kept right on going — and now we’ll resume with the discussion points I wrote back then, here on SpecFaith. Lord willing, this series will continue through mid-December, ending before The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’s Dec. 13 (U.S.) release.

As with the first film, however, I can only make an educated guess at when the film will end. So far its trailers have shown nothing beyond the Dwarves’ arrival in Smaug’s cave, after the titular dragon flees for (to the Dwarves, at first) unknown reasons. So that’s my guess.

By the time you read this, I’ll be moved nearly half a continent away, from central Kentucky to central Texas, north of Austin. Fortunately there is a nice movie theater here that shows bright 3D films in high frame rate, as my wife and I plan to see The Hobbit part 2. Will you see the film? What do you hope most will be great? What do you not anticipate (Tauriel)?

This chapter begins how the film should begin: with Gandalf escorting the company to yet another episode with a fantastic creature. In this case Bilbo, Dwarves, and readers meet a man unlike any other in Middle-earth: the shapeshifter Beorn. You could call him a “were-bear,” except that as Hermione notes about werewolves in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, were-creatures cannot control their transformations. Beorn can, and uses his power — which has no detailed origin as Tolkien gives other creatures — to great effect.

Note I didn’t say positive effect. A simplistic “cast of characters” list would put Beorn on the side of the “good guys,” especially after he shows up busting goblin heads at the Battle of Five Armies. (We all know The Hobbit film director Peter Jackson won’t resist expanding Beorn’s battle role.) Yet Beorn is at best vague. Were-bear? More like medieval gangster.

Chapter 7: Queer Lodgings

  1. Read chapter 7, pages 106 (The next morning …) to 114 (“… about to tell you”).
  2. What would it be like to fly on the back of an eagle? Do you believe this is a Biblical allusion (“they shall mount up with wings like eagles,” Isaiah 41:31) or coincidence? How would we know the difference between a Biblical allusion and coincidence?
  3. There was a little cave (a wholesome one with a pebbly floor) (page 107). Does this make sense to you? How could a cave be more wholesome, at least to Bilbo and the others?
  4. “… I have some other pressing business to attend to.” (page 109) What does Gandalf’s announcement of his leaving mean to the others? (Hint: might this be an end to those deus ex machina escapes from impossible situations, and they know it?) Here we see that Gandalf has his own agenda, and isn’t at their beck and call. Any similarities?
  5. thehobbitthedesolationofsmaug_gandalfandbeornGandalf says of Beorn: “He is a skin-changer. He changes his skin: sometimes he is a huge black bear, sometimes he is a great strong black-haired man …” (page 110). What about a “skin-changer” or “shape-shifter”? Some Christians object to having these in stories. One writer says (discussing another fantasy book): “Christians should remember that shape-shifting has been part of sorcery and shamanism through the centuries.” 1 Is this true? How would we know? Should we take this seriously? What does Scripture say (if anything) against trying to take the shape of an animal? Is this even possible in reality?
  6. Read chapter 7, pages 121 (It was full morning …) to the chapter’s end.
  7. Earlier, Gandalf used subtle flattery and an appeal to curiosity to smuggle one Hobbit and then all 13 Dwarves into Beorn’s house and hospitality. Is this deception on the wizard’s part — or perhaps a “shrewd as serpents” kind of game, which Beorn honors?
  8. A goblin’s head was stuck outside the gate and a warg-skin was nailed to a tree just beyond. Beorn was a fierce enemy. (page 124) Is Beorn a “good guy” or “bad guy”? Are his actions honorable? Do we sometimes need “rough characters” like Beorn to take care of business, or could we (even as heroes in the story) find a “better way”?
  9. How do the hints, foreshadowing, and even the sound of the name Mirkwood affect us?
  10. Three times now the group has fought a battle, then taken a rest. What might make us think this time will be different? Might those “coincidental” escapes have been planned.
E. Stephen Burnett explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.
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H.G. Ferguson
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H.G. Ferguson

Beorn is one of my favorite characters in the story too and I can’t wait to see him come to life in the movie. I would like to make two brief comments re shapeshifting. Whereas I agree with the sentiment expressed by Mrs. Kjos that you quote and document re Harry Potter, she like so many others is simply incapable of accepting the notion that Middle-earth, Narnia and other fantasy worlds are indeed OTHER WORLDS where God’s “rules” if you will about certain things may not necessarily be the same. HERE shapeshfting IS the province of the pagan and the demonic; not necessarily so in another different world God has created. The other thing I want to say is when you ask the question is shapeshifting possible “in reality,” that sounds a lot like Christian Rationalism to me, i.e. “The Devil can’t do that” — or hardly anything really, outside messing with our minds. Christians who’ve experienced the Devil’s Hand don’t ask the question you raise, they know better — by that same experience. And I cannot say in all charity, to echo Derek Prince, that in all charity it is experience I wish upon you. Soli Deo Gloria!

Rebecca LuElla Miller
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I’m more inclined to think that the only “real” shapeshifting is a reflection of God’s power. Primarily I’m thinking of angels manifesting as humans, but there’s also God’s rod-turned-snake and back again. Are there other examples in Scripture of one thing turning into another? I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

Now Satan inhabiting other creatures–that’s different, and I don’t think that comes close to shapeshifting.

Stephen, I found your characterization of Beorn as “more like medieval gangster” surprising. I find him to be quite close to Aslan–not safe, yet judging by his enemies, he’s definitely good. Now i he had a dwarf head on the pike or a skin of a hobbit, it would be a different matter.

But he won’t be manipulated or used. He is an independent, which makes him harder to pin down. He reminds me in some respects of Tom Bombadil. I find it interesting that Tolkien seemed to feel the need to include these indendents in his stories.

Becky

Julie D
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I am looking forward to Tauriel with about the same amount of joy that I am express at my cold sending all its slime down my throat right now. Even her name (literally wood-elf) gives the “this-is-gonna-be-bad” vibes. Not because she’s an alteration, but because SHE. IS. NOT. IN. THE . BOOK. WHY do the producers feel the need to give her a poster?
Looking forward to Beorn, Smaug the Greatest and Chiefest of Calamities, and anything with Ori.

Literaturelady
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Literaturelady

I’m a woman too, and Tauriel annoys me. I am tired of sword wielding spitfires. And frankly, doesn’t it disservice women to imply this is the only way to be strong? My mom is a homemaker, has five kids (ages 21 to 6), has graduated two, teaches the other three, does administrative work for my dad–oh, and she’s also a runner. All of that takes strength–not just physical strength but also a planning head and lots of patience and discipline.

Sorry, little rant there. About Beorn…I haven’t searched what the Bible says about shapeshifters, so no informed opinion there. But I do want to see the film, and I think the parts PJ and Co. got RIGHT will far make up for Tauriel (and Bard, for that matter; I don’t like the way they’ve portrayed him. Bard was grim-faced, a pessimist, and since Tolkien usually mentioned family relationships, I always thought Bard got married after the events of The Hobbit).

Glad to see the reading group posts have returned! I missed those!

Blessings,
Literaturelady