Title: The Hobbit (Or, There and Back Again)
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Paperback (Houghton Mifflin, 1997)
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.