Review: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Author: J.R.R Tolkien
Series: Middle-Earth Universe
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: September 15, 1999 (First published 1937)
J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic prelude to his Lord of the Rings trilogy
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.
Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit has sold many millions of copies worldwide and established itself as a modern classic. (From Goodreads)
This review was originally posted on Pages Unbound as a part of their Tolkien Reading Event. It’s a little different than my normal reviews, simply because of the event, as well as the book at hand.
I may be one of the few readers out there that hasn’t actually read many of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. I read The Hobbit as a teen and, even though I own all three The Lord of the Rings books, The Hobbit remains, to this day, the only Tolkien I have had the pleasure of reading. Never fear, Tolkien fans, I plan to rectify this soon!
Even though my Tolkien expertise is nonexistent, I was thrilled when Briana and Krysta at Pages Unbound asked me to be a part of their Tolkien Reading Event, and I jumped at the chance to re-read The Hobbit and write a review. So bear with me – this is my first time reading The Hobbit with a critical eye, and I’m sure all of my thoughts have been said before by many Tolkien scholars who are much more eloquent.
First of all, Tolkien’s writing is so superb that it is no wonder that his stories have become classics. The Hobbit is considered by many (and perhaps was by Tolkien himself) to be a book for children, and Tolkien was obviously in agreement with many of the authors of Children’s and Young Adult books of today who believe that they should not “dumb down” their writing simply because it is aimed at a younger audience. But, as with so many authors today, his writing can be (and should be, in my opinion) read and enjoyed by people of all ages.
Tolkien’s characters and world-building are basically flawless, and with the help of a few maps and pictures, readers become the fifteenth member of the troupe of heroes as they set their backs upon Bilbo’s home in The Hill. We are there with Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves as they narrowly escape the goblins of the Misty Mountains; we, too, find ourselves lost once the party steps off the path in the Mirkwood; and we rack our brains trying to come up with a plan to escape the dungeons of the wood elves, or to outwit the dragon Smaug.
The only drawback I found, and it is a small one, is that several of the dwarves in Bilbo’s party were not thoroughly fleshed out. We got a good sense of Thorin, Bombur, Fili, Kili, and a few others, but many of them seemed to simply be there so that with Bilbo they were fourteen in number, and also to create a humorous scene in the beginning when they all show up on Bilbo’s doorstep. However, I really did enjoy the humor. It reminds me of how Douglas Adams would fabricate a situation and then explain how that caused something in our actual history. For example, Tolkien had Bilbo say “Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves,” and then Tolkien added, “and it became a proverb, though now we say ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.” As a lover of British comedy, I enjoyed all the subtle hints of humor that Tolkien sprinkled throughout this tale.
I also enjoyed the dichotomy between Bilbo and Gandalf at the beginning. The hobbits that are most respected are those who are rich, and don’t get into any “adventures.” When Gandalf first comes upon Bilbo, Bilbo uses polite phrases such as “Good morning” and “I beg your pardon,” and Gandalf points out that these phrases have more meanings than most of us realize. Here, I believe Tolkien is commenting on how society regards politeness, and Gandalf represents a person whom some people would consider “uncivilized,” simply because he does not behave like the rest of them. Perhaps there is even more here, and Tolkien is showing the diversity of society between those who are privileged and those who aren’t, and how they each behave and believe the world should be. Or perhaps Tolkien is simply suggesting that a life not lived to its fullest is not a life lived at all.
The Hobbit is full of complex characters, interesting creatures, and such suspense that even readers who visit the tale for a second or third time may find themselves anxious for Bilbo and his companions. It is easy to see why The Hobbit continues to be loved by people of all ages, and why J.R.R. Tolkien’s works have become the very definition of Epic Fantasy. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of Fantasy, yet I would also recommend this to anyone who simply loves a good book.