The Hobbit Book Review

Hobbiton | New Zealand 2010

And so begins the first tale ever told of a hobbit. What is a hobbit? They are a tiny people who love bright colours, lush gardens and green fields, rich food and a good pint, and think home is the best place you could be. And they came to life in the imagination of a certain Englishman in the early 1900s.

a little background

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a philologist.

phi·lol·o·gy (noun)

  • the study of literary texts and of written records, the establishment
    of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination
    of their meaning.
  • (especially in older use) linguistics, especially historical and
    comparative linguistics.
  • Obsolete: the love of learning and literature.

As such, he was well-versed in the great myths of Greece and Scandinavia and lamented that his own England lacked such a mythic beginning. The Arthurian legend is more Welsh than English and also has French connections; and though Beowulf was written in Old English, it is set in Scandinavia. So, Tolkien set out to write one himself.

In 1917, J.R.R. Tolkien first put his ideas of Middle Earth on paper. But he didn’t start with The Hobbit or even The Lord of the Rings, he began with The Silmarillion which is the history of Middle Earth and the whole reason he set out to create the epic journey so many know and love today. (That book wasn’t finished until much later and wasn’t published until 1977, several years after his death.)

In 1936, Tolkien completed The Hobbit (interestingly, 10 years after becoming friends with C. S. Lewis, and three years before Lewis came up with Narnia). The story of Bilbo Baggins was published the following year, in 1937.

December Book Club | Kansas City, KS 2012 *photo inspired by Maureen Lunn

a few thoughts

I love that the world’s first introduction to Tolkien’s epic history, which was to give England a legendary beginning, was through the eyes of a somewhat simple and sometimes ridiculous hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, who ran off on a dragon adventure without remembering to bring his pocket-handkerchiefs. Oh, Tolkien.

If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings, you know the serious depths that Tolkien can go to and the mind-blowing complexities he can weave together. Though The Hobbit has a noteworthy place in the history of Middle Earth, it is also just a simple hobbit’s tale of “There and Back Again” — full of adventure, humour, friendship, treasure, fear, and sacrifice.

I definitely prefer the complexity, depths, and higher stakes of The Lord of the Rings, but when I reread The Hobbit this past month, I was reminded that heroes come in strange packaging. And Bilbo is a hero.

It’s easy to downplay fear and diminish hardship, but by telling the story through “quite a little fellow in a wide world”, Tolkien can put things into perspective with lines like this:

With chapter titles like, “Out of the Frying-Pan, Into the Fire”, you begin to see what kind of adventure Bilbo has gotten tangled up in. He gets roped into a journey leading to a dragon because a bunch of dwarves insult his dignity by calling him a grocer. And though dwarves aren’t known for being particularly friendly-folk, Bilbo proves himself to be a friend over and over in the face of grave danger. (I cannot wait to see Peter Jackson’s version of the spider scene on the big screens!)

In the beginning pages we see Bilbo responding to Gandalf in frustration:

But, somewhere along the way…

What I have learned to appreciate about The Hobbit is that Bilbo’s sense, kindness and courage are not epic, but of the everyday sort that any of us are capable of; it’s his willingness to plunge into the adventure with such qualities as he has (and the ones he finds in himself along the way) that gives him a place in legend, alongside the likes of kings and wizards.

movie poll

Peter Jackson has split The Hobbit into three films. My guess as to where (in the book) the first film will end is after the aforementioned chapter, “Out of the Frying-Pan, Into the Fire.”

where do you think The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
will stop in the Bilbo story?

Other Hobbit-y Posts:

 

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bet mercer

Bet Mercer is a poet-photographer who writes at Gimme Some Reads and Everyday Poetry. She loves quotes, reading her favourite books over again, great conversation, laughter, trees, films, and travelling the world. Follow along with Bet on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Etsy and Google+.

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Comments

  1. moe — December 14, 2012 @ 8:54 am (#)

    I’ve been wondering myself how in the world it will be broken up, assuming that Jackson will create epic endings for each film even without it being the end of the story, especially without the help of Tolkien creating the set endings like with the trilogy.

    So. I’ll concur with you in that case. :)

    So glad I read The Hobbit for the first time before this film has come out–I’m truly excited about it and feel like I have more legitimacy to be excited since I actually read the book, unlike LOTR. Thanks for the encouragement to read! I enjoyed it enough that I actually started The Fellowship of the Ring and am 100 pages in!

    • moe — December 14, 2012 @ 8:56 am (#)

      I also think for someone who is wary of the LOTR series due to its length and complexity, starting with The Hobbit was really good. I know LOTR will be much more involved, but at the same time it was a good exercise for myself to say “I have the ability to read and enjoy something by JRR Tolkien.” The introductory reading of Hobbit ushered me into LOTR without preconceptions of not being able to get through it.

    • bet — December 14, 2012 @ 10:54 am (#)

      woah!! yay for now reading LOTR! go, Maux, go! :) you never need a legitimacy stamp, but I’m glad that you read it & are even more excited. :)

      and yes, The Hobbit is much easier of a read than the Lord of the Rings. in recent years, I’ve heard some people say the “pay off” isn’t doesn’t amount to enough, so they don’t like it and stop midway through. after rereading it this past month, I have no idea what they’re talking about. :) who could stop reading Bilbo’s great adventure??

      and yes, LOTR is definitely worth it. so, don’t stop. as Bilbo says, “On we go!”

  2. Melody Harris — December 14, 2012 @ 9:21 am (#)

    Oh Tolkien. Oh Bet. Makes me all nostalgic. What a wonderful journey it was!

    • bet — December 14, 2012 @ 11:24 am (#)

      was & is! :) I always feel like a really great book is still happening. :)

  3. Sarah M. — December 14, 2012 @ 9:39 am (#)

    You and Peter Jackson would be friends. You obviously see the same themes in The Hobbit (and they’re the right ones ; ) ). Love the idea that the simpleness of the book actually reinforces the theme—that heroism can be found in the everyday. You’re more than you know, Bet…and so are all of us!

    • bet — December 14, 2012 @ 11:24 am (#)

      agreed!! :)