The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien doesn’t really need introducing if only because of the three (not particularly necessary – one would have been enough – in my opinion) movies it ended up inspiring.
I read it the first time in 2001; late in fact and long after I first read Lord of the Rings. In many ways, it’s hard to read The Hobbit without comparing it to its bigger yet younger brother 😜. I shall try to do that though.
The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins, a jolly and quite settled fellow, on an unexpected journey with a party of dwarves intent on reclaiming their realm of old. This young chap is unwillingly and unwittingly hired as a burglar for this endeavour. On that journey, Bilbo finds a powerful ring but also courage and ressources he never guessed (nor anyone else except the wizard Gandalf) he had. Fighting trolls, goblins, wargs, giant spiders and dragons on their way, being caught between giant thunderstorms, which are actual beings, they also meet wise elves, grumpy yet generous skin-changer Beorn and mighty Eagles.
It is an adventure but also a lesson in courage, trust and friendship as well as the danger of treasure hoarding. Gold doesn’t make one happy. There’s also a critic of progress for its own sake here represented by the goblins’ pursuit of destructive machinery.
The Hobbit really has a feel of a bedside story for kids, where the narrator sometimes interrupts his tale to make some comment or other about what the reader should know or expect to happen. And because of the nature of the story you can’t help but forgive those deus ex machina moments. It’s a child book, they’re meant to happen.
Still, while the wizard sets things in motion he often disappears, sometimes to return to save the group (with the trolls) or late enough that our hobbit and dwarves have learned what they needed to.
I enjoy The Hobbit when I read it but it’s not a book I’ve read many times. I’m not as engaged with the characters as I’d need to be to really dive into the story. They all feel a bit remote. And if you think on it, the only character that’s fully developed is Bilbo. It makes sense since it’s his adventure but in many ways it’s also the dwarves’ and somehow it doesn’t feel like it. I need more than a cast of extras and I expect characters with more depth now. Mind you I never took to the book as much as I did with LOTR or The Silmarillion. Maybe because I read it when I was older…
To be honest, I wondered whether The Hobbit is on this list on its own merit or because it sets us up on the path to the Lord of the Rings. It’s unfair I realize, because the plot is good and Bilbo is a great character but there are some weaknesses that one can’t overlook. It’s unfair because I review the book as an adult when it was clearly for a kid’s audience. Bedtime stories for Tolkien’s children: with each chapter having a small adventure of its own, as insignificant as it might seem.
There are great lessons to be learned: doing the right thing isn’t easy and can turn friends into enemies if only for a time. Bilbo chooses not to kill Gollum because he can’t judge his intentions but only his actions and Gollum hadn’t hurt him: something we might need to remember as adults who do support ‘preemptive action’ whatever the field.
The Hobbit is definitely worth a read: it may not end up on your ‘to re-read’ list but it’ll give you a plunge into Middle Earth, which remains to me, the most immersive world in fantasy literature (high or low). I always revisit it with great pleasure regardless of the story.
Have you read The Hobbit?
How did you like it?