Walking with Bilbo, by Sarah Arthur, is a wonderful little devotional book. Arthur does a very nice job of tying themes from J.R.R. Tolkien's, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) to the Bible. She has a levelheaded approach and doesn't try to force analogous ideas between Bilbo's journey and that of the Christian faith, but instead, she uses common sense and her own knowledge of Biblical stories and concepts to create this inspiring devotional.
I was concerned (before reading the book) that Arthur might make dubious conclusions about Christian concepts within Tolkien's work--but she doesn't. Tolkien didn't intend for his work to be completely allegorical, and she understands that. Essentially, Arthur acknowledges that in all great stories, one can find Biblical themes. Arthur (who is an "unabashed Tolkien junkie" - to quote the back cover) simply focused on The Hobbit (and LOTR) to write a solid devotional. A good devotional should inspire the reader to read the Bible more, and Walking with Bilbo will likely do just that.
What if I haven't read The Hobbit? Can I still enjoy Walking with Bilbo?
It is probably not essential that one has read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings to enjoy this devotional, but familiarity with the characters and events in those books will enhance one's understanding of the references to them in Walking with Bilbo.
Although the devotional predominantly revolves around Bilbo's experiences in The Hobbit, Arthur references characters from LOTR as well. For example, in Chapter 3, page 24, of Walking with Bilbo, Arthur paraphrases a quote from LOTR. Arthur writes, "As Sam says toward the end of The Two Towers, no one remembers the tales in which the characters give up and turn back." Arthur analogizes Sam's (Samwise Gamgee, for those of you who haven't read LOTR or seen the movies) statement to the concept that Christian faith sometimes requires a person to not "play it safe": i.e., once you follow Jesus, "there's no going back to life as it was before" (24). Certainly, the reader could understand that concept without having read LOTR (or having seen the movies), but familiarity with LOTR adds depth to one's understanding of Arthur's discussion.
So, to sum it up, one could enjoy this devotional without knowledge of The Hobbit and LOTR, but I think it best that one has read those books before reading Walking with Bilbo.
Layout of the book:
There are 22 chapters, each with a different theme. It is very easy to read one chapter per day (or more), as the chapters are about 7-9 pages long. The book is less than 200 pages long, and it includes a "Quick Reference Guide" in the back for terms that are used in The Hobbit and LOTR.
Each chapter begins with a short quote from The Hobbit, and then Arthur's discussion of the chapter's topic. She incorporates scripture into her discussion very well, and I found many of the devotions applicable to my life.
At the end of each chapter, Arthur includes a "Going Further" section, followed by recommended scripture passages to further one's devotional time. Although I read it alone, I think Walking with Bilbo would make a great group devotional (especially for Hobbit or LOTR fans!).
Conclusion: If you are a fan of The Hobbit and LOTR, and you are one who believes that reading the Bible is an essential part of your Christian walk, then you will likely enjoy the devotional, Walking with Bilbo. It will challenge you to think more deeply about matters which concern all of us. I recommend it.
***NOTE***In exchange for my honest review, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of the book. In no way was my receipt of the book contingent on a favorable review. My review is my own opinion.