Sunday, December 14, 2014

Symbols & the Soul: JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit & Restitutum

What is a hobbit? Who is Gandalf? What does a dragon symbolize? Why do dragons guard over a treasure horde? How is an elf different from a dwarf? How can there be a world where humans co-exist with dwarfs and necromancers? JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit has been listed as one of the greatest books ever written, and it's not in spite of the fantasy element included, rather, it's because of it, and the the similarity to our own world that generations of readers continue enjoying the narrative. With much affection, gratitude and prayers, this post is dedicated to Amy B., on her own spiritual journey; may you always triumph in the Life Of Grace! (If it has been awhile since you've read the book, you might download, for free, The Hobbit Trivia Quiz (201 Questions About Middle Earth) to jog your memory).
First edition, JRR Tolkien's own illustrated cover design. If you don't know anything about Tolkien, especially if you are, like myself, a convert to Catholicism, you will find his story quite moving (I can personally recommend both Joseph Pearce's books, Literary Converts and Tolkien: Man and Myth). Tolkien's mother, widowed and with two small boys, defied her Baptist family to be received into the Catholic Church and, at her death when Tolkien was only 12, left her sons to the guardianship of Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a Catholic priest; of his mother's death, Tolkien wrote at the age of 21, "My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith." This post is rather problematic for me: I try to assume that we approach all art work (film, literature, songs, art, etc.) tabula rasa, a clean slate, that we know nothing of the artists or their background because that is how we usually do approach a work of art, without doing a lot of research or knowing anything about the artist/author. With The Hobbit, I am breaking tradition, NOT because (as many fans who are not Christians will say) I am wanting to force a Christian reading, rather, to emphasize how natural the Christian reading is because Christianity is so natural to Tolkien's life (to those for whom Christianity is unnatural, it's not that you can't understand his works without Christ, rather, Tolkien artfully demonstrates how necessary the Life of Grace is to be natural, and it's the "life of nature" [a pagan lifestyle] that is unnatural). Tolkien was a devout, active Catholic all his life and at the time of his death; in other words, The Hobbit is the story of a continuous conversion within the spiritual life and, like the elven bread sustaining Frodo and Sam in The Lord Of the Rings, so the adventures and troubles Bilbo encounters are meant to sustain our own weary souls, not only by assuring us that others have passed through this dark way before, and what is happening to us in our own trials is to be expected in the spiritual life, but also to gladden our hearts and lift our spirits, to hold up to brave souls going the Dark Way of Perfection the mirror of heroism and love we rarely get to view ourselves in during our pilgrimage on earth.
Stories don't just "grab us": there is an ability to measure greatness in art; we might not always be up to it, there might be an element of mystery retained, however, great art shows us the greatness within ourselves, so to articulate why a work of art is epic is to engage the greatness within our own self, hence, the exploration of art is absolutely essential to life. By knowing art, we come to know ourselves, and the greater knowledge we have of ourselves, the greater is our engagement with art and with the world: it's not a circle, it's a cycle, a self-nurturing cycle; those who participate in it understand its rewards. A story such as the tale told in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, first published in September of 1937, is far more than escapism into fantasy, rather, it's a perfect mirror in which we can reflect on our relationship with humanity and our singular individuality.
Please click on the image to expand for easier reading. This chart I created to explain The Hobbit was far more complex, to the point it was pointless, so I simplified it and will just verbally explain other attributes of the structure as we proceed (I did make a typo: under "Elves," Rivendell and Mirkwood should be switched to indicate that the Elves of Mirkwood are the "lesser elves" compared to those at Rivendell). At the bottom, with Gollum, Smaug and Sauron, those three villains are interchangeable with each and Gollum is to Bilbo what Smaug is to Bard, and what Sauron is to Gandalf. To begin with, the main character of the story is Bard the Bowman, not Bilbo Baggins, nor Thorin Oakenshield, not even Gandalf; we can say the same of the follow-up story to The Hobbit, The Lord Of the Rings, wherein Aragorn is the main character of that tale. Why? Because both Bard and Aragorn are men, to begin with, so we humans are meant to be taught what it really means to be human through metaphors of our own being split and characterized through non-human beings. For example: Bard is the main character, and Bilbo and Gandalf are just aspects of Bard's human nature, condensed into his temporal essence--symbolized by the hearth-loving hobbit--and his eternal destiny, the full capacity of his soul, symbolized by the wise wizard Gandalf who embodies Bard's share of the Holy Spirit. This is true of every single one of us, each of us has a temporal, worldly spirit and each of us has an eternal spirit, longing to return to heaven. Just as Bard seeks the "inheritance" of the town of Dale, and Aragorn his inheritance of Arnor and Gondor, so we, too, should be seeking our inheritance and our throne: when the angels revolted against God, and they were cast out of heaven, they left their thrones vacant, and each of us is destined to occupy one of those thrones for eternity if we follow God's law instead of the ways of the world; each devil is set against letting us claim the throne he lost, however, and that's part of what makes the battle and journey so difficult. We know Bard is the main character because he is the one who slays the dragon, he completes the "great work" of the adventure, so he is the hero we are all meant to become, slaying the dragon within our own soul just as Bard does because, in reality, The Hobbit is the same story as Saint George and the Dragon (with Bard in the role of St George, who is, after all, the patron saint of England). If Aragorn is the main character of TLOR, as Bard is of The Hobbit, why write the same story twice? For this reason: Bard is a day-to-day man, an "everyman," the kind of person I am, for example, who has their daily battles, and a good amount of virtuous destiny to achieve, but who probably won't become a "important instrument" in the events of the world, which is what Aragorn is: Aragorn has a significantly longer, and more difficult trail of purification which he must endure, because his destiny of virtue is greater, and we know his capacity to achieve virtue is greater because he is used as an instrument in important events and never fails in any of his trials (but this is a different story, I digress only for comparison, but I am done now). Now, just as Bard is "distilled" into his essence of temporal (Bilbo) and eternal (Gandalf), so each of the two representations are distilled into other characters of the story, because as Bilbo and Gandalf face choices, choosing either a higher or lesser good, they either strengthen themselves (and, ultimately, Bard, so he can kill the dragon) or they are weakening themselves and Bard, too, so he won't be able to kill the dragon. For example: Bilbo, being a sign of Bard's temporal self, is a "lesser good" than Gandalf, but Bilbo is still good because he meets all the challenges with the greatest good possible for that situation (Gandalf is like the Eagles in the story, whereas Bilbo is like the little thrush). An argument against this perspective that Bard is really the main character, is that Bilbo and Gandalf both continue living after Bard supposedly passes, so how could the "parts" exist longer than the "whole?" This is, however, an accurate reflection of reality: there are parts of us all which go on living after we have passed. Bilbo symbolizes that part of Bard who still exists temporally (the tale of Bard slaying the dragon, for example) while Gandalf is that part of Bard that continues eternally, into heaven, with the Creator God. Bilbo, too, is divided in his essence, between Bilbo's "lower self," the dwarfs, or Bilbo's "higher self," the Elves. The dwarfs, are divided into two groups: Balin is the highest good, the wisest of the dwarfs, whereas Thorin sadly makes bad decisions and ends up being the bad dwarf (we are going to wait to go in-depth on Thorin and the other dwarfs until we do the films). Bilbo identifies himself with Balin, rather than with Thorin. On the other hand, the elves are Bilbo's "higher essence," his more mystical self even as he is Bard's temporal symbol; but between the elves, there are the "higher elves" we find in Rivendell, and the lower elves we see in the Mirkwood elves (we will discuss the elves at greater lengths in the post on the films as well; Gandalf we will discuss in greater detail below). At the bottom of the chart above, Gollum, Smaug and Sauron are all three basically the same enemy, but the same enemy on a different scale, the same enemy which Bard, Bard's lower self (Bilbo) and Bard's higher self (Gandalf) must overcome (Gandalf's struggle, because it is of the highest and purest element, namely, the soul itself, can't be confined to just The Hobbit, it also continues into the adventure in The Lord Of the Ring so, if you are unfamiliar with TLOR, you might not understand some of the references in the chart above; please take a moment to read over the numerous characteristics and history of Gandalf the Grey, because this will help clarify our discussion below. We will discuss Smaug in this post and again later, but for the moment, Smaug is the devil, Satan, as are all dragons; why?  For two reasons: first, dragons are the most unnatural of creatures and, secondly, because dragons are "king of the reptiles," and Satan took the form of a reptile, the serpent (whatever that really is, possibly a snake, but possibly something closer to what we think of as a dragon) is always likened to a lizard/snake, of which a dragon could be both/either. Dragons are unnatural in their size, longevity, isolation from others and the amount of destruction they cause wherever they go. Gollum, we can say, is also the devil, but--like Smaug--a temporal manifestation of the eternal being the devil; Sauron, on the other hand, is the eternal manifestation of the devil, the eternal equivalent of what both Gollum and Smaug symbolize. If this isn't making sense right now, don't fret, we will discuss this below, this is just an introduction to these ideas. There are three objects which are gained by this quest: the Ring, the treasure and the dwarfs' home. A ring is a sign of a covenant, in the case of the One Ring, as it is called in Tolkien writings, that covenant is a covenant of power between all the rings forged. We, the readers, can identify with the Ring because each of us have a covenant with God regarding our destiny, which leads us to the treasure horde over which Smaug stands guard. We'll talk about the treasure and the idea of "desolation" more in the post on Jackson's second film, The Desolation Of Smaug, but for now, let's just say the treasure is the fullness of the soul's capacity for virtue and good (symbolized by the jewels and gold in the treasure, whereas the "idea" of treasure is the capacity of the soul). "Destiny" is not so much doing a great deed--doing a great deed, such as slaying a dragon, is a result of destiny, but not "destiny" itself--as the ability of the soul to completely fulfill all its potential to gain virtue and wisdom which has been pre-determined by God. Lastly, the purpose of the covenant and the advancing in virtue is to arrive at our heavenly home, the place where we belong and where we long to be. These three objectives of the quest in The Hobbit are intricately linked together to create personal fulfillment, and is, therefore, the quest each and everyone of us is on, whether we realize it or not. 
To see our own greatness Tolkien wanted to bring to our distracted attentions, he chose characters with which we could identify with, even though we wouldn't see in our own selves, which is the mysterious nature of art. Let's focus on Gandalf choosing Bilbo because he would make a good burglar, and the relationship of that to the dragon Smaug and the treasure over which he guards, as well as the idea of "journey," and the symbolism of mountains. (There are things which it may seem that I am "skipping," but only because it will be a richer, deeper discussion in Peter Jackson's films, so if there is something--such as the character of Beorn--which I am not covering in this discussion, it's because I am saving it for the discussion on the films).
Whereas the story of Bilbo in The Hobbit is of taking something (the Ring and the treasure of  Smaug), in The Lord Of the Rings, the story is about Frodo giving something up (the Ring); why? Some of us are called to take, others to give, and it's our destiny and individuality to know which we are called to do. The reason the story ascends to those great accolades "timeless" and "classic" is because each of us is chosen to do something in this life, be it great or small, the duty is ours and ours alone and, like Bilbo, we have free will to do or not to do. For some, the duty comes at a young age, and maybe in a big way (like Saint Bernadette in Lourdes) or it comes late in life, and quietly, like so many non-celebrated saints who remain unknown, and perhaps we ourselves do not know what our calling is, or the moment when we made the biggest difference, and won't know until we stand in Judgment before God; that's why every single moment we must strive to fulfill the very greatest standard of LOVE and GOOD that can possibly exist, in other words, in every single moment, we must act as God Himself would act and reflect the largess of God's perfect love, patience and wisdom.
Let's begin with the concept of a "burglar."
Bilbo Baggins, of Bag's End, in the Shire, is the character who's journey, actions and hardships we are asked to identify with as we follow the story; why would Tolkien ask us to identify ourselves with a criminal (a thief, the taker of property not belonging to him)? Because he doesn't ask us to identify ourselves with a thief, but with a hero. The best way to understand Bilbo the Hobbit as a hero is to examine the invitation which Gandalf the wizard extends to him (while Gandalf is known to Bilbo, they don't know each other in the familiar sense); please consider this passage when Bilbo first sees Gandalf:

All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning  was an old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.
"Good morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.
"What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"

What is Gandalf doing? He's deconstructing Bilbo's statement.
Frank Frazetta's illustration for Gandalf from TLOR. How does one come to be an individual? How does one come to their unique journey in life, their destiny? The Holy Spirit, which is what Gandalf symbolizes, extends to us an invitation. How do we know Gandlaf symbolizes the Holy Spirit? By the way he dresses. That Gandalf is an "old man" and his beard goes below his waist (and by all the people he knows, long dead) Gandalf, like God, is ancient, existing before time; his staff, like a shepherd, like Moses, gives support (because the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, the comforter who supports us in our trials) and the "tall pointed blue hat" conveys to us Gandalf's thoughts: hair symbolizes our thoughts, but a hat--because it's worn on the head--can do the same; the "point" means Gandalf's thoughts are directed to the things above the earth, the things of heaven, unlike Bilbo who always thinks of food and being comfortable. That Gandlaf's hat is blue reveals his wisdom because blue is the color of wisdom. The long grey cloak Gandalf wears denotes that he is a pilgrim (someone making a religious journey for spiritual reasons): gray is the color of ash worn by pilgrims when taking off the old man and putting on the new man (the old man of sin is burned away by the Fire of the Holy Spirit, and the new man of charity and wisdom takes its place; remember, in The Lord Of the Rings, Gandalf battles the Balrog, kills it and dies of his own wounds but is sent back as Gandalf the White); it's not that Gandalf as the Spirit is on a pilgrimage, but Gandalf symbolizes the Spirit of Pilgrimage coming to Bilbo to invite him to take the pilgrimage; that the cloak is long literally means he is entirely covered in his purpose of being a pilgrim (helping Bilbo on the pilgrimage) and there is no doubt within him as to what he needs to do. (When Gandalf formally introduces himself to Bilbo, he says, "I do know your name, Mr. Bilbo Baggins. And you do know my name, though you don't remember that I belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me!" Just as Gandalf's identity is synonymous with his name, so is our identity, and the idea of making a name for one's self is an absolute good in Tolkien's world: remember, in The Lord Of the Rings, Sam and Frodo both encourage each other on towards Mordor with the stories that will be told of their adventure because this is the journey that "makes them" who they are, and will serve as inspiration for others to find who they are themselves). But "Gandalf means me" also emphasizes that there is no other Gandalf anywhere except the Gandalf Bilbo is looking upon at that moment, and that singularity of identity is the purpose of every person--because God never duplicates Creation--but we fail to achieve that individuality if we fail to complete the task put before us. Because his cloak entirely covers him, there is also the air of mystery about him, as there is of the intentions of the Holy Spirit: in the book, Bilbo has no idea of what is going to happen on the journey, or how long and difficult it will be, because if we did know what God would put us through, we would not do as Mary did and say yes, we would say no. This is handled well by Jackson in An Unexpected Journey when Bilbo is given a list of all the terrible things that can happen to him, and--in spite of the list--he still agrees to go. I know I wouldn't have. This is why Gandalf wears "immense black boots," because our feet symbolize our will, and shoes indicate what kind of will we have (because, just as our feet take us to where we want to go, so our will takes us where we want to go in life). They are boots (not dress shoes, or slippers) because they are meant for hard travel and work; they are black because Gandalf's will is not set on any earthly thing but--as his pointy hat indicates--only higher ideals and not self advancement.  But wait, you might say, Gandalf wears a silver scarf around his neck, and the neck symbolizes what leads us in life (like a collar and leash on a dog), so he's guided by material gain, he wants his part of the treasure from the Lonely Mountain and, you may continue, when they come to the troll cave, Gandalf takes one of the elven swords. Those are both good points, however, they do not match Gandalf's actions throughout the rest of the story or TLOR. As we know, in Hebrew, the word for "Word" sounds like "silver," and it's the "word" of the prophecy (the dwarfs reclaiming their homeland) that is guiding Gandalf in his decisions. Gandalf takes the sword from the troll horde because, after an enemy is defeated in the spiritual life, you gain new weapons, you are stronger and wiser, so you will have to face tougher enemies next time so you can continue growing, hence, the need for better (spiritual) weapons which Gandalf has earned by virtue of the defeat of the trolls. What about Gandalf's beard? Generally, a beard symbolizes that a man is uncivilized--to be clean shaved is the sign of a man participating in society, putting his own "appetites" (the hair growing on his jawline indicates animal passions or appetites, just as the mouth does) but, in the case of a "holy figure" it means wisdom, because the man has shun society in favor of the wisdom that comes from meditation and solitude. That Gandalf's beard extends past his waist is probably a statement of his chastity, that Gandalf is not married nor does he seek to be, putting his wisdom beyond the needs of the body. Lastly, Gandalf's eyebrows extend beyond the brim of his hat. Eyebrows are extensions of the eyes, so, as the eyes are "the windows of the soul," we can say the same for eyebrows: as Gandalf's eyebrows are extending out, so, too, is Gandalf's soul, appealing to Bilbo's own soul with his own.
Deconstruction is a strategy showing how meaning is unstable (what exactly does Bilbo mean by "Good morning?") and even the most basic, innocent greeting between strangers must be interpreted because meaning can not be taken for granted. This is also the very first thing we hear Gandalf say, so his response to Bilbo itself being an exploration into meaning is his entire purpose and role in the story; in other words, Gandalf invites the reader on an adventure of discernment (what the story means and who the characters are) just as he invites Bilbo on a journey of adventure. It's additionally important that Gandalf approaches Bilbo in the morning: it's not just morning, it's the dawning of a new day for Bilbo because this is his destiny that will forever separate the "new" Bilbo from the old one.
But Bilbo does what most of us do: he declines.
There are a number of issues taking shape in this retort where, as Bilbo puts it, he puts his foot in it and this seals the deal for him to go on the "adventure." Thorin and Bilbo are opposites in that Thorin, a warrior, was an instrument prior to him developing real virtue (which he never does, or he would make it out of the story alive); Bilbo, on the other hand, develops and strengthens his virtue along the way, and along the way becomes the instrument for his measure of virtue which destiny has allotted him: as Gandalf tells the company of dwarfs in Bilbo's house, "I have chosen Mr Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself" ("Burglar" is capitalized in the original text). This is the point of an adventure, be it great or small, for all of us: to find out what we have inside of us, to fail and become stronger, to win and advance to the next level, to learn our ignorance and gain wisdom. What we have between Bilbo and Thorin is essentially two different modes of masculinity within Bard the Bowman: is he a warrior, or a grocer, as one dwarf refers to Bilbo? By highlighting Bilbo's advancement in virtue, especially when Thorin insults him or complains about him, Bilbo demonstrates what real dignity and integrity is, and hence, what real masculinity is. It's not that men aren't warriors, but the question is, what kind of man makes the best warrior? Bilbo Baggins has the heart ("The spirit is willing") to walk to the East of East, and he has the dignity to fight the "Were-worms in the Last Desert," but he doesn't have what it takes to do it and succeed at the start of the journey. Now, when Gandalf insists that Bilbo Baggins is "a Burglar," we could say that we have just seen Bilbo's theft in action. Gloin was mocking Bilbo, and Bilbo came out to "reclaim" his dignity, that which inherently belongs to Bilbo, the way, I am arguing, that Bilbo will "steal" the treasure that all ready belongs to Bilbo and all humanity: the fullness of the virtuous soul freed from Original Sin and the devil's control.
Bilbo does not want to accept the date with destiny and settles for a cup of tea instead. How many of us treat God in exactly the same manner when God calls us to a destiny as great as the greatest saints, yet we respond, politely, with, "Thank you, no, I would rather stay here and enjoy a cup of tea," and the feebleness of that "exchange"--what God offers us and what we offer God--is the exact mis-proportion of what characterizes the lives of most of us. After all, as Tolkien points out when introducing Gandalf, "The sun was shining and the grass was very green." When life is peaceful and happy, why should we want to go and jeopardize our contentment and security? There is no reason (the shining sun and green grass) for Bilbo to wander from where he is (the opposite of what life is like for the dwarfs, being nomads and far from home).
How can I say this?
Because of Bilbo's house.
J.R.R. Tolkien's original illustration for The Hobbit with Bilbo. In the famous opening lines, Tolkien writes, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." Again, the house symbolizes the soul, so Tolkien is making an important theological statement with this opening description: the hobbit home is in the earth because it's from  the earth we were made (God created Adam from the earth) and the comfort level describes how we ourselves seek out comfort, not adversity, not adventure or trouble. Likewise, and given these are the opening lines, if we can take Bilbo's hobbit hole to be a symbol for the soul (the part of Bard's soul Bilbo symbolizes, the temporal part), it counters what Lutheran theology says about the soul and grace, that the soul is rotted and decayed, with just a thin layer of redeeming grace covering it (as one of my philosophy professors put it, Luther saw the soul as a dung heap with only a thin layer of snow covering it and blotting out all the ugly). So Tolkien says that the human soul has problems--we are grounded to the earth which makes us reluctant to follow the Holy Spirit--but our souls are pleasant because they are inviting (remember, Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me"). The most striking feature of Tolkien's illustration is that Bilbo is so much smaller than his house: if the home symbolizes the soul, then the soul is far greater than what Bilbo is living out, in other words, Bilbo is only living out a fraction of his/Bard's potential, and so it is with most of us. A person's destiny is fulfilling the soul's capacity for virtue but never is virtue acquired in comfort and ease, but only during strife and adversity, what Tolkien optimistically describes as "an adventure." In order for Bard to fulfill his destiny, so he can be strong enough to slay the dragon, Bilbo and Gandalf must both fulfill their virtues so as to strengthen Bard to their utmost ability.
As long-time readers know, the house symbolizes the soul, because the house houses the body just as the body houses the soul. Please note in the illustration just above, how large the hobbit hole is compared to Bilbo's small stature; why? That's how it is with the soul: it's far more vast than what our own meager bodies would suggest, than what we think the soul is.
This conversation is the very ending of the book but, even if you have only seen the films so far, you know that "luck" plays a large role in Bilbo's adventure and so, too, does "the prophecy." So, what exactly is "luck" and what exactly is "prophecy?" Prophecy is deep wisdom: it's not being able to predict the future, so much as to know what will necessarily happen because of how and what everything is in its essence, in its most basic identity, and because of what something or someone is, thereby, what they will do. For example, it's not that the prophecy could see into the future and could see--as in a crystal ball or something--Thorin and his company making their way to the Lonely Mountain, rather, the one who made the prophecy had the wisdom to know that at some point, Thorin would rise up in his stubbornness and pride, and go back to the Lonely Mountain and challenge Smaug; knowing the nature of dragons, the prophet knew the dragon would be difficult to kill, and knowing dwarfs, knew the kinds of lengths they would go to in order to insure they were successful and what would happen as a result of the promises they were willing to make but not willing to keep. So, what about "luck?" When Gandalf asks, "Why should they not prove true?" he is basically saying, "Did you think I, Gandlaf, would be wrong?" because the knowledge of the essence of people and things comes from the Holy Spirit; it wasn't "luck" that Gandalf asked Bilbo to join them, it was part of Bilbo's destiny; Bilbo doesn't have "luck" anymore than Thorin "doesn't have luck." What Bilbo has, however, is his dignity, his honor and a desire to always do the right thing or, in other words, the Gifts of the Spirit which, because he always uses them for the greatest possible good, increase and strengthen within Bilbo each time they are used (again, this is actually a part of Bard's soul we are discussing, and he is the one being built up so he can slay the dragon). So, the events of The Hobbit are not "mere luck," or the contriving of Tolkien to save his character and make him heroic, rather, as in all of our daily lives, we can see that events unfold for our own good (regardless of how we feel about them at the time and regardless of how bad they might seem) and it is then our burden to use it for good, just like the Ring Bilbo carries. But Gandalf comparing how little Bilbo is to the vastness of the world is meant to illustrate dramatically how much good can be released by even the smallest and most insignificant of us.
Tolkien writes, "The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden" and, readers will remember again that windows symbolize our ability to reflect/meditate (windows are the "eyes" of the house the way the eyes are the "window of the soul" in our body) and the reflections/meditations themselves; that they are "deep-set" means the reflections of Bilbo are deep-set (or he's capable of depth) and that they are round suggests the infinite, the lofty and greater ideals in life. The garden, of course (for anyone who has read the Song Of Songs), is the garden of the soul's virtue, each flower symbolizing a different virtue of the soul, each food growing symbolizing a different form of spiritual nourishment.
So here is the problem: if I am correct, why does Gandalf think of Bilbo as a 'burglar?'
Why does Gandalf make a sign on Bilbo's front door, and what is the sign? Second question first. We can't know what the "secret mark" (as Tolkien describes it) is because that is the kind of thing known only to the Holy Spirit, the name by which we are called that no one else knows, the stirrings of the heart that only God can direct. Ultimately, we can say that the secret mark means "This is the one who will join us, even though he says he will not, and he will be a blessing to us, as the adventure will be a blessing to him." We can say, further, that this reminds us of the Tenth Plague God sent upon Egypt when the Israelites were called to make a mark upon their doors so the Angel of Death would pass them by and they could leave Egypt peacefully. That mark was, of course, the lamb's blood on the beams to foreshadow Christ's Blood flowing on the Cross to deliver us from Eternal Death. Likewise, Bilbo will "die" if he doesn't accept the mark on his door because Bilbo will fail to achieve all he was meant to and instead rot in his comfortable home. Now, why on earth does Bilbo remember Gandalf's fireworks? It's possible, I don't know exactly, that fireworks are a way of saying "miracles," the "big events" that were spectacular and signaled important events, like the feeding of the fishes and loaves to the five thousand, or the healing of the ten lepers; the dramatic, supernatural (fireworks go high in the air towards heaven, so they are "above nature" that is rooted on the earth) experiences and events that are impressive. Like Gandalf, when we think of God, most of us probably think about the "fireworks" God has worked: the parting of the Red Sea, the Resurrection, the victories of King David, etc., not the small, intimate moments in our lives when we chose to tell the truth rather than risk a lie, or to not hold a grudge even though we could have. Now, in the placard above, the most important word is "arranging," because this is how the Holy Spirit works: He arranges the trials we need in order to become the individual we need to become, and--as Gandalf confides--it's difficult to find someone to share in an adventure because that means no green grass or sun shining, no pipe to smoke or good food to eat, soft bed to sleep in or friends to visit. 
There are at least two reasons.
First, Gandalf reminds Bilbo of his ancestral line, the Tooks. "Took," of course, is a form of "take," and denotes that Bilbo comes from those who "took" something of importance, like Adam and Eve who "took" the apple in the Garden of Eden (with whom all of us can identify; this is imperative to remember because Smaug, like all dragons, symbolize the devil, who took the form of a serpent in the Garden of Eden and tempted Eve, separating man from God and introducing sin into our souls; consider also that, at the end of the book, Bard has returned to his native Dale and rules, just as Adam and Eve might have hoped to return to Eden to rule the Garden once more). Before we explore the second reason, let us consider that Gandalf wants Bilbo to "share" an adventure with him, but to "take" the treasure from the dragon Smaug. Gandalf and Bilbo sharing the adventure makes them equals in social standing but also in equally responsible in seeing the adventure to its end and getting the treasure and equally sharing the dangers and hardships of this adventure. So, what is the second reason for Bilbo being a "burglar?"
Bilbo is taking back what belongs to him.
(Tolkien's detail of Bilbo Baggins). So, if Gandalf is the Holy Spirit, what, then, is a hobbit? We know that dragons--even though they can smell everything--cannot smell a hobbit, and that hobbits can pass unseen when they want, and they are courageous and generous and they love to have fun, to sing and dance and--besides their "halfling" stature--the next most obvious trait of a hobbit is their big feet. Given these characteristics, my estimation of a hobbit is "the child within each of us" (in this case Bard). As a halfling, the short stature refers to a child rather than an adult, and the hobbit's big heart is like the trusting child. A hobbit's big feet (because feet symbolize the will, taking us where we want to go in life) illustrates for us their big will, that when they commit to something they commit to it completely (even though Bilbo could get out of going on the adventure, he decides to go and then does not return home half-way through but sees it through to the end). The problem with a hobbit's will, however, illustrates what we discussed above: their feet have hair on them and leathery soles on the bottom, which denotes the "animal tendencies" of hobbits for the "creature comforts" of the hearth, that is, their wills are directed towards things like breakfast and second breakfast, tea time and comfortable beds, as opposed to "adventures," which is why no self-respecting hobbit ever goes on one as we are told in the first pages of the book. But these characteristics seem at odd with what Bilbo actually does, staying at home, eating and smoking his pipe. In the distinction between Bilbo's inner-potential and his outer-habits, we see the typical struggle of humanity expressed in the phrase, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." This struggle in Bilbo is illustrated by the elves and the dwarfs which we will discuss at greater length below.
This is where the theory of restitutum comes in. In Latin, restitutum means to restore something as it was in the original, or originally. The plan Thorin and Gandalf present is to take back their home and their treasure that belonged to them before Smaug's attack and their displacement, so this is, obviously, a case of restitutum; so, does this mean that Bilbo isn't a thief at all, rather, an agent of restitutum? No: the Lonely Mountain and treasure belong to the dwarfs, but Smaug (as a symbol of the devil) has stolen humanity's hope and dignity (which is why hobbits generally wear green and yellow: yellow, the color of gold, symbolizes kingship, courage and dignity, while green is the color of spring and rebirth, so it also symbolizes hope; traits well appointed to the child-like hobbits) and it's his hope and dignity Bilbo will reclaim as his own when he faces Smaug.
This is a difficult phrase, because there is a clashing of the temporal (the freshly painted door) and the eternal (the dwarfs thinking Bilbo is "no good"). The green door is the door to Bilbo's heart. Hobbits could be compared to the "child within" us because they are "halflings," like children who are half the stature of adults, and they are simple and easy to please. The door having been freshly painted, then, refers to the original creation of hobbits, that is, they have been unmarred by sin, the way others in Middle Earth have. Without the stain of original sin, hobbits can be trusted to act on the greatest good, rather than what is good for them personally, therefore, they make "excellent burglar material" because the only thing worth stealing, as we learn from Saint Dismas, the thief on the Cross beside Jesus, heaven itself, which Saint Dismas did by repenting of his sins and professing that Jesus is Lord, and Christ promising Dismas that they would be in heaven that day. Why does Bilbo take such offense that the dwarfs--none of whom he knows or respects--think him "no good?" Because it's not true. Bilbo is good, and to think him no good is to be wrong about his very nature, and to Bilbo, the dwarfs "stealing" his goodness is on par with Smaug having stolen their home which is why Bilbo is willing to go to such dramatic lengths to prove he is good, just as the dwarfs are willing to go to dramatic lengths to get their home back.
If Gandalf is the Holy Spirit (Bard's share or inheritance of the Holy Spirit)--and I firmly believe that's the most fruitful way of understanding Gandalf's role in the story--then the Holy Spirit (Gandalf) is leading Bilbo along the path of his destiny to reclaim what Original Sin has destroyed and wounded within Bard's soul (Bilbo wanting to stay in the comfort of his home can be taken as a sign of Original Sin because the "Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," because the flesh wants to stay in comfort and ease; more on this below with Gollum). The Hobbit, then, is the tale of Bilbo being a burglar to "reclaim" what is his by first answering the call of the Holy Spirit and then doing battle with himself and then against the dragon (i.e., the devil); so when does Bilbo battle himself?
When he meets Gollum.
Map of Bilbo's journey through the Mirkwood to the Lonely Mountain. The soul is always being prepared for something, even if that "something" is rest and consolation. Landscapes are very much a part of a story, and even some features become "characters" in the story, having such a big role in the narrative. Mirkwood, for example, takes on the character of a villain by being dark and difficult to navigate, because, before a great light (the Arkenstone) there is great darkness. The "Wilderland" should also be compared to the Wilderness the Israelites wandered for forty years, being purged and prepared by God to enter the Promised Land. Just as the Israelites had once occupied Canaan, and then left and were enslaved in Egypt and hoped to go back, so the dwarfs became exiled from the Lonely Mountain, were "enslaved" in occupations not meeting their skills and craft, and then were trying to get back through a long and treacherous journey. 
But more on that in a moment.
Just as a fighter has to train for a fight, so we have to train in stages for the spiritual life, and everything Bilbo experiences up to his encounter with Gollum is his preparation to see Gollum and overcome him in the riddle game. How is this accomplished? Bilbo overcomes his inner-darkness with inner-light. That darkness is revealed with how Gollum abuses love: Gollum thinks his love, and he does love, The Ring, just as Bilbo loves his home, pipe, bed, food and more food; left unchecked, Bilbo's "simple pleasures" would turn him into Gollum because Bilbo would put them before things that really mattered, like others, and indeed, Bilbo does so (in the book) being quite happy that the dwarfs have left without him, but it's Gandalf who shows up and (probably puts a bit of a spell on Bilbo to) gets him out the door and on the road to the adventure that will save Bilbo's soul. If, however, Bilbo isn't effected by original sin (as we discussed above in the symbol of the green door) then can Bilbo lose his soul? Yes, if he abuses his free will, he will end up like Gollum, and Gandalf makes sure that doesn't happen.
Why play a game for the prize? Gollum obviously has the upper-hand, but Bilbo can offer Gollum something that Gollum doesn't have and can't get: companionship. Gollum is so lonely, he talks to himself, and his self-conversing is "precious." Bilbo is desirable as a meal, for sure, but even more so, Gollum misses having someone else to talk to. So, why play a game of riddles? There are two reasons. For Gollum, he misses having someone else, as said, but Bilbo knows he has developed an "other self" to Gollum's "Precious," and that Bilbo needs the assistance of that other self: his wisdom to get him out of this dilemma. Riddles are equal share prophecy and poetry, and one must be both a prophet and poet to engage a riddle, which is why the game is sacred: as we said above, prophecy is "deep wisdom," the ability to know something intimately, and knowledge itself is sacred, but unless one has a chance to use one's knowledge, one doesn't really discover what one does or does not know, which is why Gollum is willing to play a game of riddles with Bilbo: the game is worth more than a meal to Gollum because the game will feed what is left of his mind and soul and the hunger there is stronger than the hunger just in his stomach. 
Great art does one thing nothing else can do: it shows us ourselves, it reveals our deepest mystery, our greatest glory, our most intimate shame and even our cowardice. To accomplish this, art (especially literature) gives us a hero (in this case, Bilbo) and invests the hero with virtue; this allows the audience to positively identify with the narrative and enter into the story and see the best in ourselves. But here is the catch: all the other characters in the story are also a part of us, our very self, and usually, the worst of our vices characters are meant to convey to us, the more encoded that character is. In the case of The Hobbit, all the characters "come" from Bard, they are all a part of him as they are of us, and the two characters closest to Bar--Bilbo and Gandalf--must resist becoming like the other characters (such as the goblins or the Necromancer) or aspire to become like them (Gandalf and the elves) or overcome what is all ready part of himself (Gollum).
The big difference between the elves of Rivendell and those of Mirkwood can be understood by the locales in which they abide. There is order and harmony in Rivendell, because the elves there live in the sunlight and enjoy the fresh air. The elves of Mirkwood, however, live in the dark forest and don't receive as much light as their cousins, and so they have neither the quality of intelligence, nor the quality of emotions. Now, this is important, because it's symbolic of the spiritual journey. We all have bright happy places, the "Rivendells" of our spiritual journeys, but we all also have the "Mirkwoods," the dark passages in which we are apt to be attacked and get lost/lose our sense of purpose. As the elves symbolize a "higher" temporal state, both of those states exist in the good and bad parts of our spiritual journey. It's easier to be loyal to God and praise Him, however, when we are experiencing abundance and prosperity (Rivendell) rather than praise and worship when we are in the dark forest of doubt and uncertainty (Mirkwood); but that is the time when, confused, we need to worship the most. The rest of the differences between the two sets of elves we will discuss in the posts on the films. 
Who is Gollum?
We don't mean—by this question--the young man who, fishing one day, saw The Ring at the bottom of the river bed and murdered his companion to keep The Ring for himself, rather, we mean what attributed symbols has Gollum been invested with that alerts us to who he is? Precious. If you haven't read The Hobbit, you might think that “Precious” is what Gollum calls The Ring and that's who he talks to when he splits his personality to talk to himself. Tolkien, on the other hand, reveals that "when he said gollum he made a horrible swallowing noise in his throat. That is how he got his name, though he always called himself 'my precious.'"  The sound he makes swallowing is him, as when Gandalf says, "I am Gandalf and Gandalf is me." In other words, Gandalf is known for the great things he does, Gollum is known for the things he swallows and what it makes him do. So what is it that Gollum swallows? Foul things.
"Three rings for the elven kings under the sky,
Seven for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for mortal men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the lands of Mordor, where the shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
The inscription on The Ring is in bold, the lines having been uttered while Sauron cast the spell over the One Ring. To each character who comes into contact with The Ring, it means and does something different, because The Ring--in its power--knows how to test each character and make The Ring the master over that character. Why, or how, does The Ring make the one wearing it, invisible? The invisibility acts as a metaphor for what we "hide" from others. For example, Gollum, in his horrible state of existence, was "invisible" to everyone because he hid himself on the rock island in the middle of a dark, underground lake; but Bilbo "saw" him and in all his pitiful nature (as when Bilbo could have killed Gollum to escape, but jumped over him instead). Bilbo "hides" how good he is, his humility, his courage and compassion for others, and this is a virtue, so that's why he can become invisible, because (as we discuss above with the dwarfs thinking Bilbo is "no good") he keeps his complaints and abilities to himself, so he is always hidden anyway. We will discuss this further on the posts for the films, as we will have more examples for discussion. 
A goblin-imp, cold, raw fish, frogs, whatever he can get his bony hands on, things that one shouldn't eat; but it wasn't always that way, and that's the tragedy of the story; Gollum choose to become this "thing." Remember, when Gandalf comes to invite Bilbo on the adventure, it's morning, because it's the "dawning" of a new day in Bilbo's life that will bring great light into Bilbo's soul; Gollum calls The Ring "my birthday present," because when he found it, the day was his birthday, but it was the falling of perpetual, unnatural darkness in Gollum's life, and he accepted it with his free will; and yet, he still remembers that he is precious. Looking at Gollum, listening to Gollum and watching Gollum, there is nothing to commend him as "Precious," and that is Tolkien's point: regardless of how far we fall into sin and darkness, there is still the image of God within us, shining and precious beyond all count, even beyond the great treasure over which Smaug guards. Even Gollum knows that. In defeating Gollum, Bilbo (again, a "double" for Bard) overcomes that own part of him that would become like Gollum and that's why Bilbo proves--at least, at this point--to be worthy of The Ring--because, like Gandalf, no darkness is going to overcome Bilbo in his "smallness." So what happens to "change" Thorin?
What does this passage say? Thorin would not do for Bilbo, what Bilbo is doing for him. In other words, had the situation been reversed, and it was Bilbo and hobbits who had lost their homeland, and they sought out the help of Thorin and the others to help them, the dwarfs would not have helped. Why is this important? Because it shows they know they value of money, but of  nothing else. Additionally, Tolkien warns "don't expect too much" of dwarfs, which, translated, means they don't have a capacity for generosity or great virtue, so they generally aren't willing or aren't capable of achieving the kind of greatness Bilbo is and does achieve. As we have said before, a character doesn't die unless they are all ready "dead" in some way; Thorin dies in the Battle Of the Five Armies, and it's because--throughout the entire journey--he has made the wrong decisions and valued the wrong things/not given proper value to things he should have, especially Bilbo. 
Thorin, like Bilbo, is split, but differently: there is "Thorin," and there is "Oakenshield." "Oakenshield" (the history of which is not disclosed in The Hobbit, but in the Appendix of The Return Of the King) is a warrior and leader; "Thorin" is a dwarf, and, as such, susceptible to greed like the rest of them; but Thorin is also the heir to the throne. Now, this is the part where Bilbo and Thorin can be compared, because Bilbo going into the mountain to face Smaug is Bilbo's enthronement  (yes, becoming a "king") because what does Bilbo do? He overcomes his fear, he completely "masters" himself, and so he becomes the king of his own kingdom, which each and everyone of us is called to do. Thorin, on the other hand, releases the dragon from under the mountain into his own heart: the worm, as they call Smaug, acts just like a worm burrowing in Thorin's heart and eating him with greed. This leads us to the "other heart," the Arkenstone.
So what do dwarfs symbolize? Since they choose to live within the earth, they depict our attachment to things of this earth, but, as they are also miners, they symbolize the potential for deep meditation (as miners dig into the earth looking for jewels, so those who are spiritually advanced go deep within themselves looking for the jewels and rewards of meditation). Balin is, without doubt, the best of the dwarfs; Oakenshield could have been, but the desire for the throne and the treasure horde was too great for Thorin, who ransomed the good within himself for power and treasure and so lost it all. The hardships of the quest made Bilbo a better hobbit, refining his all ready good qualities and revealing what he never knew he had in him. The quest, on the other hand, hardened Thorin and all the years in exile caused him to be bitter; rather than being grateful and happy that they had regained their homeland, Thorin sought revenge and became the meal of the worm Smaug as Gollum wanted to make a meal of Bilbo. 
The Arkenstone is known as the "Heart of the Mountain," because it was mined from deep, deep within the Lonely Mountain (which itself is a sign of meditation, the retreat from others and into one's self to do the work of the soul). Far from supposing to be a source of temptation for the dwarfs, it was meant to be a source of deliverance from their greedy ways: "ark" is part of the name, and not by accident, so the stone is comparable to Noah's Ark. But what else can we say of such a legendary gem? Here is what Tolkien writes:

It was the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain. So Bilbo guessed from Thorin's description; but indeed there could not be two such gems, even in so marvelous a hoard, even in all the world. Ever as he climbed, the same white gleam had shone before him and drawn his feet towards it. Slowly it grew to a little globe of pallid light. Now as he came near, it was tinged with a flickering sparkle of many colours at the surface, reflected and splintered from the wavering light of his torch. At last he looked down upon it, and he caught his breath. The great jewel shone before his feet of its own inner light, and yet, cut and fashioned by the dwarfs, who had dug it from the heart of the mountain long ago, it took all light that fell upon it and changed it into ten thousand sparks of white radiance shot with flints of the rainbow. 

The Arkenstone draws Bilbo's feet towards it, and it has an inner-light all its own. Hobbits "wear no shoes because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly)." Feet, we know, symbolize the will, because they take us where we want to go; the hair on their feet is the same as the curly hair on their head, so there is a continuity between the thoughts they have (symbolized by the hair on their head) and their feet (which symbolizes the will); in other words, hobbits naturally have a united will and mind, unlike humans who (because of Original Sin) usually want to do one thing, but end up doing something else altogether. Bilbo, then, finds the Arkenstone because his feet (will) is drawn to it, all throughout the journey, even though he didn't know it. So why is this a big deal?
The "hidden manna" might refer to Exodus 16:33, when the Lord commanded Aaron and Moses to take an measure of the manna they had eaten in the desert and put it aside for future generations. That manna symbolizes the spiritual food of wisdom given by God to those making the pilgrimage through the wilderness of the soul and going through purgation (this is even more evident in TLOR when Frodo and Sam eat the elven bread that sustains them on their trip to Mordor).  The Arkenstone is like the white stone spoken of: after one has eaten the spiritual food (like the food Bilbo eats in the Mirkwood elves' hall) one desires only the things of the soul and to advance in the ways of holiness, which leads to the purification of the soul, the "white stone," because Christ called us to become "living stones" and the Christian definition of "living" is to be alive in faith, innocence and purity, all three symbolized by the color white. So, the Arkenstone, then, is the stone upon which  Bilbo's "new name" was written that only he knew what it was. What? Bilbo becomes celebrated for his heroism during the journey and especially the Battle, so he is no longer Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, but a hero and warrior, a sage and leader. No one knows the name but he who receives the stone because we and God are the only ones who know the desires of our hearts. God knows our desires because He puts them in our hearts so we will desire the things He wants to give us, like Gandalf giving Bilbo--at different times during his "tea party"--a desire to go and hear waterfalls and explore caves, and then Gandalf fulfilled it by sending Bilbo on the adventure. Bilbo would have slowly died had he stayed in the Shire, but he becomes one of the living stones since he goes on the adventure and eats the "hidden manna," and so finds the white stone (the Arkenstone) and, therefore, finds his own soul, his own great and inestimable dignity. Again, this is what all of us are called to do.
Most clearly, the Arkenstone is a metaphor for the soul itself. Light is the ultimate symbol for illumination, purity and faith. The "flickering sparkle of many colors" invokes the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, which was a prefigurement of Christ (each of the colors representing a virtue of Joesph's and since the coat had so many colors, he himself had so many virtues). The many colors of the stone and its own inner light present for us a tangible concept of how rich and glorious our soul is, and precious beyond all worth.
The Arkenstone has rendered by one artist. It might be called a "treasure chest" because our treasure is in our bodily chest, our heart, because if our heart is poor and corrupt, we are poor indeed, with nothing to commend us; if our heart is rich in mercy, love and wisdom, we are indeed rich, for those are the greatest qualities a person can have. While Bilbo Baggins learns this, Thorin doesn't. 
It may seem that I am off, since so little is said of Bard, but that he has a grim face and voice. He appears (in the book), however, at the climax--when he is most needed--and when his destiny is ready to be fulfilled. He could not have received the news the thrush brings him about the exposed spot of Smaug's under belly, or hit it, unless--like Bilbo--his mind and will were united and he had fulfilled his level of virtue so that he could do what needed to be done. He could have saved himself, or--after the dragon is killed--he could have accepted the invitation to become king; but he doesn't. If he had, it would have been a sign that the Thorin within him had won, and he would have become just as bad of a ruler as the Master; but it's the Oakenshield in Bard that comes out, so he can help in the Battle of the Five Armies and return at last to Dale and take up his inheritance there, as Aragorn does in TLOR. Why does Tolkien's books have such similar endings? To emphasize, once again, that we ourselves are in line for a heavenly inheritance and are meant to return to our heavenly kingdoms, if, like Bilbo, we so choose and fight the little battles of each day to strengthen and build ourselves up. (Again, if there is something I have failed to cover, I am saving it for our next reviews of Peter Jackson's films).
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner