Typically, in fantasy literature, the presence of a forest represents mystery and a transition in the story. Tolkien uses this device in The Hobbit expertly with Mirkwood, and even offers us something that speaks of our own lives. Tolkien often said that he did not write an allegory when creating Middle Earth and the stories contained within. Of allegory, he said, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” That said, him being a Christian, it is easy enough to see his biblical worldview shine through in the pages of his books.
In The Hobbit, Tolkien never alludes to Mirkwood as a good place. Even the great Beorn speaks of it with some trepidation. As the party leaves the halls of Beorn, he warns them to stay on the path, for to veer from it meant certain doom. Gandalf further affirms this warning, speaking of The Old Forest Road. Dwarves built the road in ages past, but the road had become unusable because of its proximity to Dol Guldur, the fortress of the Necromancer. Gandalf had the party take the path just north of the Mountains of Mirkwood. It was a less beaten path, but the elves there seemed to hold some sort of magical protection over it.
Gandalf, upon coming to the beginning of the north path, left the party and sent them on their own. As he departed, he left them with this comfort: “We may meet again before all is over, and then again of course we may not. That depends on your luck and on your courage and sense; and I am sending Mr. Baggins with you. I have told you before that he has more about him than you guess, and you will find that out before long. So cheer up Bilbo and don’t look so glum. Cheer up Thorin and Company! This is your expedition after all. Think of the treasure at the end, and forget the forest and the dragon…” What words of comfort from their leader! It must not have seemed like comfort at the time, seeing as Gandalf left the dwarves with the Hobbit, whom they still did not trust. Their trek through the forest would be long and wearisome, but at the end, there was a prize greater than any of their present afflictions.
Our own walks with the Lord on the earth are very similar. Christ gives us a new life through the regeneration of the Spirit. He makes us new: the old is gone and the new is come. The Spirit within us groans for the place promised to us. Yet, there is still Mirkwood to walk through. Christ has gone away for a time, but he has left with us a Helper to walk us through this perilous life. Though this earth before sin was Greenwood the Great, (Mirkwood’s name before the Necromancer) it is now Mirkwood, complete with peril on both sides of the track. Jesus talked about this. He said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) We are sinful creatures that like to control our own fate. We see the road with hundreds of years of footprints on it; we take it, because we know that it at least seems the safest. Our sight on these things is so short, yet we readily trust our own instinct rather than the words of truth from Scripture. Scripture says the way of life is narrow, just like the northern path. Sure, sometimes it seems impassable. There are times when we feel so famished that we cannot possible dream of another minute on the road. We long to be back on the more-frequented path. In The Hobbit, the dwarves throw aside the wise counsel of Gandalf and Beorn when the mirage of the wood elves tempts them. The sleight of hand of the elves tricks them three times before they finally realized that veering off the path might have been a bad idea. We are no different. The Lord has made clear the road that leads to eternal life, but we want it the hard way.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) The way is easy in that we do not have to do anything. Like the dwarves, we will face hardships and sufferings, but we need only keep our eyes upon the prize and we will be safe. Anything else leads us to destruction. Scripture says that there is a way that seems right to man, but the end of it leads in death. The way that leads to eternal life will not always seem right, but we can rest assured that it is.