The Hobbit

As many of you know, Eva, Maree, Clare, and I are co-hosting a readalong of The Lord of the Rings this year. January was Hobbit month. I’ve been reading a chapter or two each day during lunch and finally finished this week. Although my most ardent Tolkien-y passions are reserved for the main trilogy, The Hobbit has its own special charms.

The Hobbit opens with a well-to-do, comfortable hobbit named Bilbo Baggins receiving an unexpected visit from Gandalf the wizard. Before long, he finds himself hosting a dozen dwarves for tea and fretting over whether there’ll be enough cakes for him to be able to both serve his guests and have some left for himself. Soon, this homebody of a hobbit is roped into coming along on an adventure in which he will meet elves, trolls, giant spiders, a shapeshifter, and a dragon. He’ll wander through mountain caves, float down a river on a barrel, and become embroiled in a battle of five armies. And all the while he’ll be fretting over when he can get his next good meal.

The Hobbit, unlike the later trilogy, is a good old-fashioned adventure story for children. The narrative voice is like that of a kindly old grandpa. He makes jokes, injects little lessons, and talks directly to the reader. Because I’ve read Lord of the Rings a couple more times than The Hobbit, the charming voice had mostly escaped my memory, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story also doesn’t have the weight of Lord of the Rings. It’s not a story of a world-changing adventure; what happens to Bilbo and the dwarves does affect others, but the whole of Middle-earth is never in jeopardy. For most of the side characters in the book, things will go on much as they did before, regardless of what happens to Bilbo and his friends.

Despite the light touch Tolkien takes in this book, there is a sense of greater things going on beyond the events of this tale. There’s talk of the Necromancer in the south and long-held resentments between goblins and dwarves, and the songs give a sense of the history of the complex world Tolkien has built. And of course, readers who know the basic plot of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are well aware that the events of this book, one event in particular, did end up having great, world-changing consequences.

I can’t really write objectively about The Hobbit because I love Tolkien’s Middle-earth so much, and this book is such a lovely introduction to this wonderful country. It does have an episodic sort of structure, with each chapter or two recounting a different adventure, all of which lead up to the climactic showdown. For me, the little adventures along the way are the real pleasures of The Hobbit. The epic battle at the end feels like something out of a different kind of book altogether. In fact, it feels a bit too Lord of the Rings-ish to really belong to The Hobbit. Every time I’ve read this book, I’ve told myself to pay attention to the battle so that I can appreciate its significance, but honestly, that part of the story just doesn’t work for me. But the rest—the trolls, Gollum, Beorn, the spiders, the woodland elves, even Smaug—bring a smile to my face every time.

And now for the true confession: I’m terribly worried about the film adaptation, scheduled to be released in two parts starting in 2011. Guillermo del Toro is directing with Peter Jackson and his team from the Lord of the Rings films writing the screenplay. Jackson’s team did a reasonably good job on the previous films (I have my issues with them, but I was generally impressed), and del Toro is a fantastic director, so it should be a dream come true, right?

Well, my worry is that they’ll try to make this the same kind of movie as the LOTR trilogy when the book is an altogether different sort of book. It requires a lighter touch. The books take place in the same world and have some of the same characters, but the similarities end there. I hope that’s true of the films as well.

Note: The images in this post are all photos of the beautiful edition of The Hobbit that I got as a gift from one of my sisters years ago. The art is by Tolkien himself. It’s almost too pretty to read, but it makes me happy to read this great story in such a gorgeous book.

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22 Responses to The Hobbit

  1. It’s Clare like the county, not Claire like the name. :)

    I loved the tone, too- my review is going up tomorrow. I think the film is in wonderful hands. They are expanding the story somewhat, but I would be quite sad if the wittiness and playfulness was abandoned in favor of something more epic.

    • Teresa says:

      Ack! Sorry about that Clare. I meant to go back and check before hitting post and then forgot. It’s fixed now :-)

      My main worry about this film is the potential loss of the playfulness. I don’t mind some expansion of the story, but I’m worried that the battle of five armies and the Necromancer will overshadow everything else.

  2. Pingback: The Hobbit « Shelf Love | Hobbit Movie News - Tolkien Lord of the Rings

  3. I hadn’t really thought much about the light touch, but then again I haven’t ever finished the trilogy. I also hadn’t really paid much attention to the Necromancer before, is that going to becom Saruman in the next three?

    • Teresa says:

      koolaidmom: I think the contrast is pretty evident if you go straight from one to the other. The Necromancer is barely mentioned in the Hobbit–maybe 3 times–so you wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t know what you were looking for (I certainly hadn’t in previous readings.) He’s actually Sauron; one of Gandalf’s absences is to drive him out of Mirkwood.

  4. I loved The Hobbit as a child – my father used to read it aloud to my brother and me before bed. While I may never achieve my father’s level of passion for Tolkien, I will always remember The Hobbit fondly and value it above the grander, darker Lord of the Rings trilogy which I went on to read as a teen, for purely sentimental reasons.

    • Teresa says:

      Claire: This seems like it would be a great readaloud book, both because of the voice and the episodic structure. And I can totally see why one would love the Hobbit and not LOTR.

  5. Jenny says:

    I love the illustrations in your copy! I should see if I can get one like that for my older sister – she loves Tolkien and would be thrilled by that beautiful copy.

    • Teresa says:

      Jenny: This was a great gift. My sister got it years ago at a book fair. It’s from Houghton Mifflin, if that helps you hunt it down, but I’ve had it for so long that I don’t know if this particular edition is still being sold.

  6. Kathleen says:

    I love the illustrations in this version. They are so beautiful that they make me want to read this book again!

  7. Annabel says:

    Your edition is lovely Teresa. To be honest, I found it slightly twee in places rather than charming, but then I remembered it was written for younger readers!

  8. Kristen M. says:

    The school library that I volunteer at has this edition and I hope that it brings more children to Middle Earth.

    I’m not worried about the film(s) because I’ve learned to separate them mentally and just enjoy each for what it is. Otherwise, I would just have to skip one or the other because I would almost always be annoyed. There are few cases where the film decisions in an adaptation irk me enough to make me angry.

    • Teresa says:

      Kristen: I can usually separate films and adaptations without too many problems, and a lot of the changes in the earlier LOTR films were totally fine with me. They got the mood of the books right, and that made me happy. I just hope they do the same with this.

  9. Pingback: The Hobbit | Hobbit Movie News - Tolkien Lord of the Rings

  10. rebeccareid says:

    pretty pictures. I too read a beautifully illustrated edition (not by Tolkein but even prettier) and that was my favorite part of it! I hope to read it with my son when he’s older and maybe then I’ll like more, from the child’s perspective.

    • Teresa says:

      Rebecca: There’s so much beautiful Tolkien-inspired art out there that it could fill several books.

      I’m guessing that this would be great to read to a child. Seeing it through his eyes could certainly make it more fun than it was for you the first time.

  11. Amy says:

    What beautiful illustrations! My version has a few but they’re all black and white, nothing this interesting. :-)

  12. Care says:

    The book I read had that one of Smaug on his loot! Tolkien was amazing.
    Great post.

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