Alison Milbank, “The riddle and the gift: The Hobbit at Christmas”
The answer to dragon-sickness is not just simple generosity but giving as a mode of exchange, which unites donor and recipient, and which prompts reciprocity. Tolkien unites here gift-exchange practices of traditional societies with the Distributist political vision of his own day, which sought a more equal and just society not by removing private property but by distributing it as widely as possible.
Reading this at Christmas, however, reminds us of the most widely distributed gift of all: the Christ Child, who is given to all of us and to the earth itself. God the burglar - the thief in the night - smuggles himself into the world He made: “veiled in flesh the Godhead see” as Wesley’s hymn reminds us and another begins, “When came in flesh the Incarnate Word / The heedless world slept on.” Like Bilbo Baggins, there is more to this baby than appears: he too is a riddle, and Christmas poems and carols love to extend the contradictions of his birth into paradox…
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