Release Date: September 21, 1937
Publisher: George Allen & Unwin
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.
Written for J.R.R. Tolkien's own children, The Hobbit has sold many millions of copies worldwide and established itself as a modern classic.(courtesy of Goodreads)
I first read The Hobbit in college. I was fresh off my foray into the Harry Potter series, which taught me that fantasy wasn't always awful and that I needn't avoid it. If you want to break into the fantasy genre, what better place to start with The Hobbit? My memory of what I thought of the book at the time is pretty fuzzy. I know I gave it a 3 star review on Goodreads. I basically remember liking it well enough but not being overly impressed. Fast forward ten years and I decided to read The Hobbit again as part of a Lord of the Rings read-along. I'm better versed in the high fantasy genre now and The Hobbit didn't feel so foreign. This time, I loved it!
My initial impression is that The Hobbit feels like a lot of other books that I've read. Tolkien did not invent the hero's journey theme nor was he the last to use it. It's a basic framework that is repeated again and again. It made the book feel simpler, like the children's novel that it is. That's not to say the story doesn't have its complexities of character or plot. Rather, the familiar framework was comfortable - like meeting an old friend.
The Hobbit is a book meant for children but is appropriate for all ages. It has that wonderful fairy-tale speak that the best children's novels do. It's the perfect blend of word choice and style that enthralls young readers yet doesn't talk down to them. It also makes the book feel timeless.
The characters, of course, are wonderful. Bilbo is the classic normal guy stuck in a weird situation. He reminded me of Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Richard in Neverwhere or even Harry Potter: Someone who is unwittingly brought along for the ride and ends up being a crucial part. Bilbo is a cheerful sort, although he spends much of the book being grumpy. He's flexible enough to adapt to the extraordinary situation he finds himself in, yet his obstinacy is what often saves the day. He is both fair and cunning.
I enjoyed the other characters as well. Gandalf is presented as a god-like figure, but it's also indicated that he makes mistakes. We only scratch the surface of his personality, but there's enough to know that a three-dimensional person lies beneath. I particularly found Thorin and the other dwarves intriguing. They are a bit arrogant towards Bilbo at first, but they soon warm to him as he proves himself useful. As the book goes on, I saw them as brave comrades in arms fighting alongside Bilbo. But what I really liked was how layered they became at the end. They were all brave creatures, but they were also greedy and stubborn and it nearly did them in.
I do have a few criticisms of the plot. Mostly towards the end. The ending of Smaug was anti-climactic. Smaug was set up as this huge foe to be conquered, but it was dealt with too quickly and wasn't nearly interesting enough. Similarly the Battle of the Five Armies came out of the blue. Not only was there inadequate set-up, but it was over with really fast. This could have taken up a large portion of the book with all the different players and the consequences. I suppose Tolkien didn't want to get bogged down in a big war for a children's book.
And then of course there's the Ring. The discovery of the ring and Gollum is one of the only parts of the book I remembered. I didn't even remember that it made Bilbo invisible. It is probably my favorite part of the book and, I think, one of the most memorable events in all of modern literature.
I am so glad that I re-read The Hobbit. It goes to show that one's feelings about a book can vary drastically depending on when you read it. I finally feel like a legit fantasy fan, because I was able to lose myself in Tolkien's world. Onto The Fellowship of the Ring now!
Rating: 4.5 / 5
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