The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End.
But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard, Gandalf, and a company of thirteen dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an unexpected journey ‘there and back again’. They have a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon…
With the forthcoming release of the first part of The Hobbit it seems only right and proper that I get around to finally reading the book for the first time. Yes, I know I’m thirty-eight and I should probably should have read it years ago but I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m more than a little intimidated by what you would probably term classic fiction. There I’ve said it. I’ve finally admitted my secret shame. Why am I so overwhelmed? Well, The Hobbit is the perfect example to help illustrate my problem.
The book was first published way back in 1937. Since then, many people, the vast majority of whom (probably all) are far cleverer than I, have read it and produced an in-depth analysis of the themes and motifs that the story touches upon. I’ve always been a bit worried that I just wouldn’t get it. I was concerned that by picking up the book and attempting to read it, I’d miss all these fine things that all these clever sorts were talking about. After a lot of procrastination, and a couple of deep breaths, I decided to take the leap face my fear and go for it. Time for me to finally give the book a try and attempt to discover what all the fuss was about.
When it comes to characterization, I was struck that most of the cast read like exemplars of particular traits. Bilbo begins the novel with a very narrow world-view, more than happy with his lot in life, but as the adventure unfolds he is called upon to draw from hidden reserves of courage and self-reliance. He is shaken out of his pastoral existence and forced to confront the rest of the world.
Other characters are similarly used. Beorn the woodsman feels like a cypher for environmental issues, while the leader of the dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield, allows Tolkien to explore the perils of leadership.
And then, of course, there is poor old Gollum. He’s the creature that Bilbo meets while separated from the rest of his party, lost deep underground. Gollum is obsessed with a very special ring, he refers to it as ‘his precious’, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. Gollum has spent years alone and his greed and obsession have twisted him both mentally and physically. In order to elicit Gollum’s assistance, Bilbo is forced into a riddle competition. The back and forth between both characters in this battle of wits is brilliant fun.
There are some other marvelous moments and one of my favourites is when Bilbo and the dwarves fall foul of three trolls named Tom, William and Bert. A troll called William? How wonderfully odd. Elsewhere the image of Bilbo, the self styled Hobbit burglar, and the dwarves escaping captivity by floating down a river in used barrels raises a smile. It almost goes without saying that Smaug the dragon and the Battle of the Five Armies are suitably epic in scope.
Tolkien manages to pack a heck of a lot into a paperback that is only two hundred and seventy pages long. The only thing I can really compare The Hobbit with is the writing of Tolkien’s contemporary, C.S. Lewis. For me, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit feel like they are cut from the same fantastical cloth. The Hobbit has quite rightly earned its place as the grand-daddy of modern fantasy. It must be a classic – there are talking eagles in it for goodness sake!
Even now, seventy-five years after publication, I think The Hobbit has a lot to offer any reader. There is an exciting adventure with more than enough twists and turns to keep younger readers hooked. While for more advanced readers there are plenty of ideas explored that are worth pondering. I’m embarrassed that it has taken me so long to open this book. I forgot the cardinal rule ‘don’t worry what anyone else thinks, make up your own mind’. If you’ve never read The Hobbit, can I suggest you don’t wait as long as I did. I have to admit that I’m looking forward to the movie version even more now that I have finally devoured the source text. My only concern re the movies is that I have no idea how they are going to stretch it out into a cinematic trilogy. Two films I can see, but three feels a bit much.
The Hobbit is published by Harper Collins and is available now.