The Hobbit

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien

The first time I read The Hobbit I was in fourth grade and my family was taking a road trip to the east coast. I remember a few things about that trip, but mainly I was lost in the dark paths of Mirkwood forest and the rocky ledges of the Misty Mountains. I re-read the book when I was in high school and loved it just as much. So I felt a bit of trepidation about re-reading it as an adult. I was worried it would seem childish and the magic would be gone from its pages, but I quickly discovered I had nothing to worry about.

The book was just as wonderful this time around. It’s such a great adventure. Tolkein created an entire world, filled with hobbits, dwarves, elves and trolls, which was completely foreign to anything I knew. When Gandalf and 13 dwarves (Thorin, Dori, Nori, Dwalin, Balin, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Kili, Fili, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur) show up in the Shire, everything changes for Bilbo and for the readers.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is that our hero is a complete anti-hero. Bilbo doesn’t want to go on an adventure. He has no desire to leave his home, but somehow he is swept up along on the journey and he discovers that a tiny corner of him has always longed for a quest.

“‘We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,’ said our Mr. Baggins.”

(The 2012 Hobbit movie and 1977 cartoon version)

Gandalf flits in and out of the story, but he always appears when he’s needed the most. He’s always been one of my favorite characters in literature. He can be cryptic and mysterious, but he’s also a true friend, a wise leader and a warrior. He never gives up and his hope gives hope to others.

The dwarves are so different from the hobbits. Their driving force is a love of money. They aren’t bad, but they have an interesting moral code. Thorin, the group’s leader, puts them all in danger because of his obsession with the precious stone Arkenstone. They aren’t too dissimilar from Smaug, the dragon who stole their wealth, except that the dwarves only want what they see as rightfully theirs.

“There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.”

Gollum is, in my opinion, the most interesting character in the book. We know almost nothing about him, but we are at once enthralled and horrified by him. Bilbo has a similar reaction. It’s important to note that he feels pity for Gollum, which foreshadows the events in Lord of the Rings.

“A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering.”

(A drawing of The Hobbit on a postcard my uncle sent my Mom from Sweden in the 1970s)

A few things I'd forgotten about the book:

1) Beorn, the bear man., somehow I completely forgot this character!

2) Bilbo was more than 50 years old when the adventure began.

3) His mom’s name was Belladonna and his Dad’s was Bungo, how fantastic is that!

4) The dwarves love and value music and each one had an instrument that they played.

5) The thrush is really the unsung hero of the novel. Without the help of that bird, the dwarves could have been stranded in the mountain with no hope of defeating Smaug.

While some people find the Lord of the Rings hard to get through and overwhelmed with descriptions and details, The Hobbit is a quick read. It was targeted at a younger audience and so it’s much more accessible. If you’ve ever been curious about Tolkein’s world, this is the place to start.

One side note, I can’t wait for the movie to come out this December! Have any of you seen the cartoon version (image above)? I grew up watching it and as I was reading the book I kept remember songs from it.

p.s. Someone built a Shire in Montana… no seriously!

Photo of postcard by moi.

Images from here and here


Sandy Nawrot said...

The kids and I listened to the audio of this book, and we totally enjoyed it. It was just dear, all those characters with their little songs and adventures. We hit a brick wall with the LOTR audios though. They were horrible. I cannot WAIT until the movie!

Kristi said...

I'm really embarrassed to admit that I've never read this. Shame on me! I haven't read the Lord of the Rings trilogy either. I do have them on my shelf. Maybe I'll hurry and read the Hobbit before the movie comes out. I'm glad that you still loved it upon reread. I always worry about reading childhood favorites again. I don't want to ruin the memories. So far it hasn't happened.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I need to re-read this one. Read it some years ago but I think it was too close to LoTR. I remember feeling slightly dissapointed at the story because it felt too childish after the trilogy.

I think it be a much better experience now that the LoTR hypnosis is a bit faded, and just before the movie comes out.

Teacher/Learner said...

I'm in the same boat as Kristi. I need to get a move on :)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - Oh, I don't know if I could do LOTR on audio. There's just so much detail! I'm so excited for the movie too. I saw a sign the other day that said, "Don't worry, the Mayans were just counting down to the release of The Hobbit movie." So funny.

Kristi - The Hobbit is a good place to start. It's just a fun adventure story!

Alex - It's such a different style from LOTR. Both are good, but so different.

Teacher/Learner - Getting books read before the movie comes out is always a great motivator for me.

Kailana said...

When I read this book I didn't really enjoy it. I love LOTR, but this was just not as good for me. I am entirely different about my reading now, so I would probably enjoy it more now than when I was younger. I will have to see about rereading it...

Jenners said...

I agree .. The Hobbit is way more accessible. It is why I always liked it more.

Anonymous said...

I read this in high school for the first time and loved it! I never graduated to LOTR, but I do treasure this book. Can't WAIT for the movie, Martin Freeman & Benedict Cumberbatch together again, oh my! :) --Cara

annieb said...

I read the Hobbit and LOTR in the 70s and liked LOTR much better. However, I am also much different about my reading now. I think I will see the movie and then read The Hobbit again. That is what I did with rereading LOTR; saw the movie first and then reread the trilogy. I also remember seeing the animated version somewhere along the way, but animation is usually not my thing, at least not when they are about books that I like.

By the way, Melissa, I like your new picture.

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

I love The Hobbit and can't wait for the movie!

Jeanne said...

I discovered LOTR in the middle school library when I was 11 and regarded The Hobbit--which I found there the next week--as kind of a consolation prize, a prequel. Reading it to my kids made me like it better, though. Interestingly, the part about Beorn was one of their favorite episodes. We are all looking forward to the movie.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kailana - I do think this one works best if you read it when you're young. It seems so childish if you read it after LOTR.

Jenners - A lot of people feel that way. I love LOTR, but for very different reasons. It's epic and the themes are much deeper, but it's not as easy to pick up.

Cara - Those two are such great casting choices! I can't wait.

annieb - Isn't it interesting how our reading tastes change with time? I think that why rereading is such an important practice. (and thanks about the new pic!)

Captain - Me too!

Jeanne - That's the perfect time to discover it. I think The Hobbit worked well for me because I was so young when I first read it and I didn't immediately read the LOTR afterwards. Now it holds a wonderful nostalgia for me.

Jillian said...

All I'm going to say is, I can not wait for the movie to come out. December seems so far away!!
I also find that the Hobbit is the best book to re-read in the entire series, imo.

Rob said...

Looking forward to re-reading this one again before the movie. I might try the audio version this time.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jillian - I do think The Hobbit is a much easy reread. If you reread one of the LOTR books, you kinda have to read them all!

Rob - I've never listened to it on audio, but that will definitely be how I reread it next time!