"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

The Hobbit is a fantasy adventure tale set in fictional Middle-earth and is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, although it can be read as a standalone novel. The Hobbit is often considered to be more of a children’s book than its gargantuan sequel, however it is creepy, exciting and has dynamic characters that older audiences will appreciate and doesn’t read too much like a children’s novel, as well as being written in such a way that it is amusing and charming enough for children to enjoy.

The Hobbit is about an unambitious hobbit (these are creatures very much like men, except they are very small, do not wear shoes due to their furry, hard-soled feet and loathe adventures) named Bilbo Baggins who lives his life very contentedly in the cosy comfort of his hobbit hole - complete with numerous pantries to sate his enormous appetite - until he is reluctantly recruited by Gandalf the wizard to accompany a group of dwarves to steal a treasure-hoard from the lair of the fearsome dragon Smaug.

This novel has one of the most fantastic opening chapters I have ever read and is a strong testament to Tolkien’s superb writing talent. I adore Tolkien’s quaint and cosy description of Bilbo’s home, which sounds like the most marvellous and snug place to live in the whole world. This first chapter is very funny, with Bilbo being taken by surprise at the swarm of dwarves who invade his home for tea, and his horror at discovering they want him to come along on an adventure!

Once the party hit the open road they encounter plenty of scary and exciting creatures such as man-eating trolls, goblins and vicious wargs as well as the daunting prospect of being eaten alive by giant spiders. There is always something exciting happening to the group and the narrative is never dull.

All of the characters are wonderfully entertaining. The group of dwarves don’t have very distinct personalities from each other, but Bilbo is a highly amusing fellow. Tolkien sets him up as a bit grumpy and a person who loves his home comforts and loathes any disruption from his mundane daily activities in Hobbiton; he regularly makes reproachful remarks about adventures:

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

However as the story progresses it is interesting to see Bilbo’s ‘Tookishness’ emerge as he uses his bravery and wits (and, of course, the ‘One Ring’ which turns him invisible) to get out of the several sticky situations the treasure hunters find themselves in.

In contrast to his semi-comedic portrayal in The Lord of the Rings films, in The Hobbit Gollum is a strange, scary little creature; he is a gaunt and emaciated thing, constantly arguing with himself, completely set on gobbling Bilbo up if he fails to beat Gollum in a riddle contest.

Due to the thrilling adventure that unfolds between its pages, the compelling and beautifully illustrated characters (many of whom I haven’t even discussed - witty, clever Gandalf, Beorn the grumpy skin-changer, the terrifying dragon Smaug amongst others), Tolkien’s skill at painting a vivid picture of welcoming Hobbiton, gloomy, dangerous Mirkwood and the other fantastical locations of Middle-earth, The Hobbit is one of my favourite books. I can’t say anything negative about this enchanting novel; there are moments of great peril and terror, but it manages to remain light hearted throughout. There is something in it for everyone and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 10/10

My other J. R. R. Tolkien reviews:
The Lord of the Rings

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