On his death-bed, the dwarf king, Thorin commends Bilbo’s blend of courage and wisdom, adding, “if more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” Food and cheer are transitory pleasures, which take their value from the moment and the company. The Hobbit is actually as much about food or lack of it — as well as the fear of being eaten — as it is about the shiny solidity of metal. The dwarves are continually tightening their belts or existing on cram.
Just as Bilbo teaches the dwarves the value of sharing their gold, so they teach him at their first encounter — the unexpected party — the value of sharing food and distributing it as widely as possible. What, one wonders, was one bachelor hobbit going to do with a larder as full as his obviously was with mince-pies and cheese, seed-cakes, pork pies, cold chicken and pickles?
Economics is not a party, and the Incarnation is not a political program, but I believe The Hobbit has something profound to offer us at this festive season about the true use of the bounty and beauty of the earth, which is to distribute it in such a way as to enable and make visible as many relations between producers and consumers, and fellow-workers as possible in contrast to the barren golden abstractions and glamour of money-markets. Ruskin wrote, “there is no wealth but life” and the hobbits are so successful a race as enablers and burglars because deep down they know that too.
But even the comfort and the fellowship of the Shire must be given up, “made strange” and riddled, so that one can travel “there and back again.” When Bilbo brings us back with him from the Lonely Mountain, ordinary hobbit and human life can itself be received back as a gift, and seen as such, so that its comforts may be shared with others.
Alison Milbank, in a wonderful essay on the theological economics of The Hobbit — the book, that is, not the films