THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien
Ballantine Books, 1937, 287 pages, 9780547928227, Paperback, $13.95
To most movie goers, Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was a successful and entertaining trilogy. But to readers, writers, and fantasy lovers, the trilogy is often inseparable from its lesser known prelude, The Hobbit. With the announcement of The Hobbit as the next movie in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth adaptations, the book’s popularity has sky rocketed.
Originally published in 1937, The Hobbit was on the forefront of Tolkien’s writings, which helped establish the genre of fantasy fiction as a legitimate, not to mention lucrative, enterprise. Considered today to be the father of fantasy fiction, Tolkien’s works remain widely read.
One of the most distinguishing features of the novel is the style in which it is written. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon studies, as well as English Language and Literature, and it shows in his writing. The story is not written like most modern day fiction, but, instead, almost as if the reader is being told a story by his or her wizened elder. Tolkien does not hesitate to speak directly to the reader, and he does so many times throughout the text. “The mother of our particular hobbit — what is a hobbit? I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us.” The events of the story are not shown to the readers, but told to them. Much in the style of the great works of English literary history that the author himself was so fond of. All in all, I find this to be an interesting choice. Taking the time to describe, instead of explain, the events of the story would have lengthened the book considerably.
As it stands now, I found The Hobbit to be 287 pages of wonderfully charming adventure, dastardly dangerous encounters, and beautifully crafted landscapes. The story begins with a very content and respectable hobbit, one Mr. Bilbo Baggins, enjoying a morning on his front doorstep. The trouble (or dare I say excitement) begins when the wizard Gandalf, accompanied by a troupe of twelve dwarves, ends up in Mr. Baggins living room for supper. From there Bilbo’s life takes a turn towards the wild side as he reluctantly joins the company, journeying with them beyond the bounds of civilized lands into the hazards of the Misty Mountains, the dark of Mirkwood forest, and the ominous desolation around the Lonely Mountain.
The majority of The Hobbit tells of the main characters’ adventures and experiences in the lands they pass through on their quest to restore the riches and honor of the house of Thror. Truly, through this plotline, Tolkien has captured the essence of a medieval traveler’s tale. Additionally, Tolkien populates Middle-earth with an array of creatures loosely based on the tales and legends of his homeland. Dwarves inhabit the deep places, mining, crafting, and forging, while Elves reside in the forests, Goblins fester in the mountains, and great Eagles patrol the upper reaches of the world. Men, as well, exist in this world, slowly spreading into the unconquered lands beyond the borders of the known world. All the while, the peaceful race of Hobbits enjoys the warmth of their hobbit-holes, tucked away from these great adventures.
Capitalizing on his academic background, Tolkien blends many songs into his work. As part of creating the world of middle-earth, the author crafted elaborate cultures for the races within The Hobbit. The easy going, nature loving elves sing songs of greeting, both taunting and praising the listener while the grim, but crafty dwarves strum their harps to the dirges of their homeland. Even the rather unpleasant goblins have the gift of music in this world.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is an all-around enjoyable adventure into the lands, culture, and dangers of Middle-earth. Within its paperbound pages, dragons swoop down from dark skies to steal hoards of Dwarven gold, while Goblins ride astride wolves, pillaging and burning. Forgotten descendants return to restore their rightful inheritance and small, unsuspecting hobbits are whisked away to foreign lands to face the brooding unknown. The Hobbit is an adventure of mythic proportions that begins in the most unexpected of places.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”