Book Review: The Hobbit

I wasn’t originally planning to review The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. It seems so well known, what could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said? But I couldn’t resist.

I first read it some time after the Lord of the Rings films came out several years ago: The Hobbit comes before those books but I can’t remember if I read it before or after the others. With a new film of The Hobbit coming out in December, I wanted to reacquaint myself with the book before seeing the movie.

Bilbo Baggins is a respectable hobbit who loves food, his home, and his quiet routine. Adventure is frowned on among hobbits and Bilbo has no intention of having any.

But then the wizard Gandalf arrives and coerces an unwitting and unwilling Bilbo into hosting 13 dwarves for a confab. It seems the dwarves want to reclaim their ancient treasure which is being guarded by a dragon, and somehow Gandalf thinks Bilbo is the one to help them. The dwarfs and Bilbo are incredulous at this, but Gandalf insists, “There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet.”

Thus Bilbo sets off, wishing many times over the course of his quest that he was back home. He encounters elves, trolls, goblins, wolves, giant eagles and a giant spider, a dragon, and a weird creature called Gollum. He obtains a sword and a magic ring. He gets lost alone, he gets captured with others, another time he rescues others, he fights battles, he becomes a peacemaker. Victory in one particular conflict “made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath. ‘I will give you a name,’ he said to it, ‘and I shall call you Sting.’ ”

I love this kind of story, where a character is called on to do what they don’t think they can, and along the way either develop or learn what they need to know to accomplish it, and they persevere even though they feel stretched beyond their limits. And Middle Earth is a delight. Tolkien provides enough description of the place and creatures to make the reader feel a part of the story but not so much description as to bog a reader down.

I had wondered if the whole Lord of the Rings story arc had been conceived before this book was written, because not much is made of the ring and it doesn’t seem to have the negative effects on its wearer as it does in the later books. According to the Wikipedia entry for The Hobbit, this story was written alone and then sequels were requested. The next three books have a darker tone though they do contain some humorous moments: this book is a little more lighthearted though there are many moments of peril and danger.

There is some debate on whether the book is allegorical or symbolic: Wikipedia and SparkNotes differ on this. It seems to be primarily just a fairy tale, but themes of heroism and bravery, respect for nature, and the dangers of covetousness are clear. A quote I had seen many places before is one I had aways pictured as coming from a merry banquet: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” But it is more of a lament, occurring after a dreadful battle when a character is dying.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book narrated by Rob Inglis, who did a marvelous job with all the voices and even sang rather than recited the songs in the book. His rich timbre and characterizations greatly enhanced the books: he sounds like he could have come straight from the set of the films. I had looked for an unabridged audiobook for a long time: at first all I could find were dramatizations, so I was thrilled to see this.

Here are a couple of trailers for the new film. It looks like they are combining a few elements from the films that were not in The Hobbit (Galadriel wasn’t in this first book), but otherwise they look great and I can’t wait to see the film!

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Hobbit

  1. I’m not sure if you have the extended versions of the LOTR series, but in one of the special features, Tolkien is quoted on the question of allegory. He says “he disliked allegory in all its manifestations …preferring history, true or feigned with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.”

  2. ! We’re road tripping things in December for Christmas and I think that finding this book on CD would help pass the time in a very fun way. Especially if he sings the songs instead of just reading them!

    I can’t wait to see the movie. There is much anticipation for it in our house. (They also just released Hobbit Legos — with a Hobbit Hole!) Rather, these new Lego sets come out in December. Excellent marketing. It’s working on me!

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