By Michael A.G. Haykin
Of modern 20th-century novelists, J.R.R. Tolkien is, in my opinion, undoubtedly the best. And I agree wholeheartedly with those surveys done in the UK at the turn of this century that placed him way out in front of modernist novelists. Now, in The Hobbit, there is a great description of the elf-lord Elrond’s house in Rivendell: “His house was perfect, 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. Evil things did not come into that valley” (The Hobbit [Rev. ed.; New York: Ballantine Books, 1966), 61—this Ballantine edition is the one that I first read in the late 1960s). The description is repeated in The Lord of the Rings, Part I, where it is described as “the Last Homely House east of the Sea” and the description from The Hobbit cited (see the quotation marks) and elaborated on:
“That house was…‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’ Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.” (The Fellowship of the Ring [The Lord of the Rings, Part I; 2nd ed,; London/Sydney: Unwin Hyman, 1966], 237).
One can see the changes at a glance. But my interest is elsewhere. Surely, in this description, Tolkien has captured the western tradition’s thinking about the ideal home.
When my wife and I had our first child, Victoria, I remember hearing in a public address from one of our friends, Anna Pikkert, a description of her home when she was growing up—it was, she said, a place of security (see Tolkien’s statement in The Hobbit, “evil things did not come into that valley”). I thought to myself: that is what I want my home to be. Well, we live in a fallen world, and that dream was never fully realized. And things turn out differently from what we hope for. But Tolkien’s vision of home, encapsulated in these two descriptions, has ever been my dream. Maybe it was that Tolkien’s words, read numerous times, lingered on in my mind. Whatever the case, is this not the sort of home we want: “merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.”
And this, I submit, is the biblical understanding of home. Now this is something worth striving for.
Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.