Gandalf’s very last words are unequivocal and could not be starker or plainer: “Be good, take care of yourselves—and DON’T LEAVE THE PATH!” Here we see Gandalf as the archetypal father-figure advising his children as they embark on a journey on which he cannot be present to watch over them that they should be good, be careful, and don’t do anything stupid! The advice is, however, charged with Christian moral guidance, which the everyday language might obscure if we are not paying due attention. Being good, i.e. virtuous, is the prerequisite for success, whereas taking care implies the need to practice the cardinal virtues of prudence and temperance. Most importantly, the emphatic exhortation that they should not, under any circumstances, leave the path reminds the Christian of the words of Christ: Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. (Matthew 7:13)
After we have made the comparison between the malicious and destructive “cleverness” of the goblins and the gentle and genteel simplicity of the hobbits, we will perceive that the conflict in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings between those who serve the Shadow and those who walk in the Light, between trolls, goblins, and dragons on the one side, and hobbits, dwarves, and elves on the other, is a battle between two civilizations, the culture of death and the culture of life, which is closer to home than we might at first realize.