Jon Bloom has written a wonderful piece on the value of Tolkien's fantasy works to real seeing. One of the points he is trying to make is that quite the opposite of being an "escape" from reality, good fantasy and fiction (like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) actually should serve to help us better understand our reality, by acting as a lens for true seeing.
...in terms of Middle-earth being a means of escape, Tolkien had this to say:
Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and what is more, they are confusing . . . the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. (“On Fairy-stories”)
Tolkien never intended his tales of Middle-earth to be a desertion from reality, but a means of seeing beyond the confined walls of our perceptions to a much larger reality beyond. And he suffered no delusions that Middle-earth was that reality. But through the lenses of Middle-earth, Tolkien, an unashamed Christian, wanted to show us “a far-off gleam . . . of evangelium in the real world” (emphasis his, “On Fairy-stories”). His kind of fantasy was intended to help prisoners in the real world escape and go home.
What Bloom wants us to discover is that, in the present time, we are in desperate need of such stories. He quotes Professor Louis Markos, himself reflecting on Tolkien's work in The Hobbit:
We are, in many ways, a civilization adrift on the stormy seas of relativism and existentialism. The first ‘ism’ has robbed us of any transcendent standard against which we can measure our thoughts, our words, and our deeds; the second has emptied our lives of any higher meaning, purpose, or direction. Our compass is broken and the stars obliterated, and we are left with nothing to navigate by but a vague faith in the modern triad of progress, consumerism, and egalitarianism. They are not enough. . . . What we need, in short, are stories. (On the Shoulders of Hobbits, 10–11)
And, he says, the stories we need,
are precisely those that will beckon us to follow their heroes along the Road; that will embody for us the true nature of good and evil, virtue and vice, and then challenge us to engage in the struggle between the two; that will open our eyes and ears to that sacramental faerie magic that we so often miss. (187)
Head over to Desiring God to read the whole thing, especially Bloom's moving conclusion.