Friday, November 2, 2012

Book Review: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I reread this in anticipation of the movie coming up in December. It is a classic tale of a fish out of water exploring the greater fantasy world he lives in, much like Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter. Bilbo Baggins is the fish, though he is much more unwilling than Luke or Harry to explore the fantastical world in which he lives. As a Hobbit, he lives in a comfortable hole in the ground where life goes on at a leisurely pace. There's plenty of time for meals, smoking, meals, drinking, and more meals. Then he's visited by the wizard Gandalf, who is helping some dwarfs organize an expedition. Gandalf wants Bilbo to go along, partly to break the unlucky number of dwarfs (thirteen), partly because he thinks Bilbo will be useful. They head off across Middle Earth to the Lonely Mountain, where the dwarfs once ruled. The dragon Smaug turned out the dwarfs and turned their underground kingdom into his lair. The head of the dwarfs, Thorin Oakenshield, is a descendant of the rightful king and is going to take their kingdom back.

Like most of these stories, at first Bilbo is out of his depth. But he quickly becomes more resourceful, using his wits and his growing bravery to get out of the various tricky situations he and his companions wind up in. At one point he is separated from the group in the caverns of the Misty Mountains and has a delightful battle of wits with Gollum, a wretched creature who loses his preciousss ring to Bilbo. The ring becomes quite pivotal in The Lord of the Rings. But that is another adventure.

This story is very well written. The descriptions are vivid and the world is well-crafted. The characters are interesting and the situations have plenty of humor and drama. The style of writing is a little old-fashioned, as if it were an epic, though some places the author addresses the reader (like, "for you it would be very strange if...") almost like he is a storyteller with an audience listening to him speak. I'm sure it will be wonderful to read this to my children in the coming years.

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