Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Little Hero Goes a Long Way: A Review of The Hobbit (Or, There and Back Again) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Title: The Hobbit (Or, There and Back Again)
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Paperback (Houghton Mifflin, 1997)
Pages: 272
How I Came By This Book: A few years ago a friend of mine was clearing out some of the books that she didn't want anymore and I ended up snagging a bunch of them. The Hobbit was one of them.

About the Author: "John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE, was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the high fantasy classic works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings .

Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford from 1925 to 1945, and Merton Professor of English language and literature from 1945 to 1959. He was a close friend of C.S. Lewis." (taken from GoodReads)

Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit with a penchant for eating and a dislike of adventure, sets off on the journey of a lifetime with thirteen gold-seeking dwarfs. He will outwit trolls, battle giant spiders, hold his own against elves, and face a fearsome dragon before his adventure is done. Here is the story of the reluctant Bilbo and his transformation from a mere hobbit to a great hero.

Review: While everyone else and their uncle is rereading this book, I had never read The Hobbit before. I picked it up to read because of the upcoming movie, of course, but I had gotten barely halfway through it when I knew that I'd be picking it back up to reread again and again in the future. 

The Hobbit follows the story of Bilbo Baggins and his unexpected journey to the Lonely Mountain to help thirteen dwarfs (led by Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror) retrieve the wealth stolen from their ancestors by the devilish dragon, Smaug. Tricked into the adventure by Gandalf the wizard, Bilbo finds himself swept up into a world of danger and excitement...both things that a respectable hobbit should despise. At first it is all too obvious that he has no business being on this trek and that he is no burglar, despite what Gandalf has told the dwarfs (can someone explain to me why the plural of that isn't dwarves????). After a while though, especially after he acquires a magic ring that allows him to become invisible, Bilbo becomes a valued member of this merry band of adventurers and gets them out of quite a few tough spots. And in the end he learns what he is truly made of.

I had read Fellowship of the Ring in high school and I remember that the book plodded along in some places (sometimes glacially slow). The Hobbit, however, started quickly, progressed quickly, and ended quickly. In fact, I'd say that the pace was actually too fast in some places. Rather than showing what was going on, Tolkien spends a lot of time telling things in one or two paragraphs, glossing over details and jumping ahead. It doesn't get to the point where important things are left out or where the reader goes "Wait, wait, go back and tell me more," but it does seem as if this book is written with an eye to only the really important bits of the really important bits. But maybe that's just me. 

The writing is absolutely beautiful and it draws you in from the first page. Tolkien knows how to weave a tale and how to paint a picture with words. One of my favorite lines in the entire book comes at the beginning of Chapter VIII: Flies and Spiders:
Occasionally a slender beam of sun that had the luck to slip in through some opening in the leaves far above, and still more luck in not being caught in the tangled boughs and matted twigs beneath, stabbed down thin and bright before them. 
I'm not really sure what it is about it but the imagery in that sentence just stood out to me. Much of the book is like that, with descriptive passages and beautiful scenes painted with the brush of beautiful words.

The book's biggest strength, however, is its characters. Bilbo is an instantly likable fellow and his adventures and misadventures help him to grow as the book progresses. Some of the minor characters, like Beorn, are insanely memorable and Smaug is such a crafty and smarmy character that I wish there could have been more of him...even if he was the villain. 

Despite my first thoughts about Bilbo's fellow travelers (i.e., "How the hell am I supposed to remember which dwarf is which?"), I found that each of them was different from the next and that the dwarfs all had unique personalities or traits which made them discernible from each other. I came to like some more than others but in the end even the ones that annoyed me redeemed themselves. Gandalf isn't present for the entire journey, but his bits in the book are fun and help to move the story along. 

Upon finishing the book I'm still not quite sure how this is going to be a trilogy of films. I could see maybe two, but three is pushing it, even if they are adding in stuff from The Silmarillion and other bits of stuff from Tolkien's notes. I've been told, however, that a lot of the goings on in the book are going to be expanded with new characters being thrown into the mix and that characters from LoTR that don't actually show up in The Hobbit are going to make appearances. I guess we'll all just have to wait and see how this all works out but I'm actually looking forward to it. Martin Freeman seems like the perfect Bilbo to me (mostly because of his performance as Arthur Dent) and, as a recent convert to the cult of Sherlock, I'm eagerly awaiting Benedict Cumberbatch's interpretations of Smaug and The Necromancer. 

The Hobbit is an exciting, fun romp through Middle Earth and one that I would revisit again. Tolkien's pace may have been a bit too quick for me, but the book doesn't suffer from that fact. I'm giving The Hobbit five out of five Gabriels.


And, just because I can, here's one of the trailers for the first film in the trilogy, which everyone already knows comes out later this year. 


  1. I've been having a lot of trouble deciding if I want to read the book before watching the movies. I usually have a strict 'read the book first' policy, but with the movies being so expanded with new characters and scenes, I can't help but wonder if I should wait.

    Your review does make me want to go ahead and read it now, though! I've read LOTR multiple times.

    1. Now that I've read it, I'm actually wondering that myself. Although, I know that if I were to wait until after the movies (which would take, you know, three years) that I'd probably be disappointed, so it's probably a good thing that I read it now. I've learned in the past that if I see the movie first, I tend to like it a lot better than the book even if everyone else swears the book is better.

      It's definitely a great book, I'm just really curious as to how they're going to expand it. One great thing is that there will be female characters in the films. There is not a single female anywhere to be seen in this book. Plus, you know, Benedict Cumberbatch. He's one of the few men on the list of people I could sleep with that my boyfriend wouldn't be angry about (mostly because even as a straight male he completely understands the appeal. LOL). I'll be reviewing the film after we go see it so my initial thoughts on it will be posted in mid-December.

  2. Great review of a great book!

    I am concerned about the film because, seriously, THREE films?! If they could contain LOTR into a single film for each book, how can they stretch The Hobbit out to that many?! Although, I loved this book so much as a kid that I will definitely be front of line for each one and I'll probably adore them even if I grumble about them constantly!

    Also Martin Freeman seems like perfect casting to me, I'm really excited to see him take on the role.

    1. Of topic, how awesome is Sherlock?!

    2. Thanks! And agreed. On all of it. Especially the Martin Freeman bit. Although, David Tennant was considered for the role, which I would have loved as well.

    3. Also, Sherlock is one of the greatest things ever made. I would make babies with that man so hard.

    4. I didn't know Tennant was considered for the role, I'm not sure how I feel about that. I mean, I know he'd have been awesome but he feels too tall - which is such a bizarre reason to give.

    5. I also think he's a bit too skinny. I mean, Freeman's not a large man, but Tennant is, like, fettuccine noodles held together with skin and hotness.

    6. That's actually the most perfect way to describe Tennant. From now on I'll use that as my go-to line!

    7. Did you see he's in a new TV series called The Spies of Warsaw? I'm not sure when it's coming out but BBC America will be airing it (not that that helps you in anyway. LOL)

  3. I did see that, hopefully it gets picked up by the ABC here, they're the most likely to pick up a BBC show. Unfortunately they tend to start the show about 1-2 years later :|

    Did you ever watch the 4 part mini-series he did? I think it was called Single Father. It was pretty heartbreaking.

  4. I actually didn't see that. I don't know a lot of his work. I've only recently become a fan and that's just because I finally watched all six and a half seasons of Doctor Who.

    1. Congratulations on watching Dr Who! Who's your doctor?

    2. I've only seen 9, 10, and 11, but unless one of the other 8 completely knock my socks off, 10's my favorite, although 11 keeps doing things to try and steal his crown. LOL

      My friend Emily had been trying to get me to watch DW and Sherlock for ages but it was my boyfriend who finally sat me down in front of them and made me watch them. I think he felt that if we were going to be dating I'd damn well better have seen two of the greatest series ever to have existed.