Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkein

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (1937) (Collins Modern Classics)
J.R.R. Tolkien
Grade: A+
Genre: high fantasy
Source: own

Bilbo Baggins is your ordinary Hobbit from the Shire: he enjoys his food, his comfortable lifestyle in his own hobbit-hole, and the prospect of a leisurely life to the end of his days. Bilbo is descended from the respected Bagginses and the slightly less-respected Tooks – the latter of whom have a great sense of adventure ingrained into them. At fifty years of age, Bilbo has never felt the urge to go off and have jolly adventures of his own – until now.

A surprise visit from the great wizard Gandalf and his thirteen dwarf friends has Bilbo on the end of his tether as they eat him out of his larder, but they present an enticing picture of their great quest: to recapture their rightful gold and treasures from the hands of the dragon Smaug – with Bilbo as their burglar. Gandalf is certain that Bilbo is the perfect fourteenth companion for the job, but the dwarves ridicule the suggestion and Bilbo is determined to prove them wrong!

Together with Thorin, Dwalin and Balin, Oin and Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur, Nori, Ori and Dori and Fili and Kili, Bilbo makes his way towards the Mountain where their treasure – and Smaug – lies. On their adventures, Bilbo encounters trolls and goblins, a nasty creature called Gollum and a nondescript little ring that has powers beyond his wildest dreams …

I read The Hobbit because my internship required working on the tie-in books for the upcoming film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I figured a little background reading was probably in order so that I didn’t look like a fool. I’m really not one for reading classics because usually I’m bored stiff, and literary fiction isn’t my thing. I didn’t know much about Tolkien or his books before I started reading him, and let’s say that all my preconceptions and assumptions were thrown out of the window – and I’m delighted they were.

I’ve never watched The Lord of the Rings films either – or particularly had the inclination to – but I’d always assumed from the three hour films that the books, too, would be long, dense, dull and heavy to read. I couldn’t have been more wrong and there’s a reason they’re so popular and Tolkien is held one of the greatest writers of all time. I’ve been proselytising The Hobbit to everyone I know and while I know that the films will be nowhere near as good, I want to watch them all.

Tolkien’s books were written for children and I can certainly draw parallels in style with Harry Potter, despite the latter being written more than sixty years later. The description and atmosphere is beautiful, the characters hilarious, the dialogue seam-splitting and their adventures inspiring. The writing is brilliantly straightforward and almost magical, as we follow Bilbo on his journey of maturity and development. It’s really the perfect book for kids.

I guess part of my love for The Hobbit comes from the imagination and slight incredulousness of the world. I’m no stranger to fantasy, and as Tolkien has been credited with being the pioneer of high fantasy, it really is a pleasure to read it. But, compared to vampires, werewolves and their ilk, the tales of hobbits, dwarves and trolls etc was really a refreshing journey. The writing and adventures, high and low, were magically gripping and Tolkien’s penmanship is something to be treasured. The scene with Gollum and the riddles was wonderful and while I sometimes found the long songs and poems tedious, I can’t ignore their beauty or craftsmanship. This really was a work of art.

It may have spoiled the reading some, but I couldn’t help but picture the film characters as I was reading throughout the book. Martin Freeman really is a perfect Bilbo and while I dislike Richard Armitage as Guy in Robin Hood, he makes a fantastic Thorin. From what I’ve seen on the trailers, this is really a film that needs to be seen full-screen.

The Hobbit is one of the best books of my summer, and without a doubt, a novel that I'll be re-reading again and again. Tolkein has a magical quality to his writing that can't be matched, and he knows how to write a thrilling, gripping story, perfect for children and adults alike. Having worked on some of his other titles too, it's intriguing to learn how his worlds all mesh together and I'm really looking forward to reading more. First up, The Lord of the Rings.


The Hobbit has been published into more languages and editions than I can remember, with numerous reprints. I have the 1998 (?) Collins reprint, but I can't find a picture of it on the internet after a little more than cursory search. So this is one of the many, many beautiful covers out there - 2013, movie tie-in edition. There's also the other great movie cover with Bilbo peering out of his hobbit hole, but that's the more popular one that I see everywhere, so I thought I'd choose this one instead. Plus, it fits with the gorgeous movie tie-in covers for the three Lord of the Rings titles.


Image courtesy of Book Depository

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