Review – The Hobbit

Posted 24 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Yesterday — or, by the time this goes live on my blog, the day before yesterday, the 22nd — was Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday, so naturally that constituted the final bit of excuse I needed to reread Lord of the Rings. And it never quite feels right without starting with The Hobbit. It doesn’t have quite the same cleverness that I enjoy with Lord of the Rings — Tolkien hadn’t come up with, or didn’t see the need to explain, his complicated text provenances, for example — but I still enjoy the narration, the sense of being told a story, and the fact that he expects you, dares you, to be on the ball. As a kid, I didn’t notice some of the flaws in Bilbo’s plans at all, but Tolkien’s narration gives you the benefit of the doubt there. Self-deprecating, almost.

I think the reason I dislike the Hobbit films so much is because they are adapting the book I love to blend with the films they’ve made already. I can see why they’re doing that, and why people enjoy it, but I don’t feel the desperate need to rationalise the difference between the tones of the two books. I like my dwarves goofy, the hero’s journey a little less blatant; I like that Bilbo makes his way through all the adventures because he’s a hobbit, with hobbit-sensibilities, not just a hero in hobbit form. I love that hobbits are basically Tolkien taking aspects of himself and letting them run around in this fantasy world without the illusion that of course he’d be the heroic type. It’s still wish fulfilment, but it’s a kind of wish fulfilment where the hero probably would be better off as a grocer or something else quiet, and manages despite that.

I mean, I bet a very small percentage of self-insert fanfics have the sense to admit that in reality, they’re more like the hobbits than the typical heroes. I really enjoy that Tolkien quite blatantly did that with his layers of authorship and the characteristics of hobbits as a race, and didn’t give in to the urge to over-romanticise it — while still making hobbits endearing, funny, brave, worth reading about, still pulling out aspects of character from even the most countrified bumpkin that could make them a hero.

And, let’s be honest, I just don’t understand people who don’t see the skill in Tolkien’s writing, in the way he builds up the world. Even here, where it isn’t taking the main character very seriously, he still takes the world seriously, shadowing it with the threat of the Necromancer, the Ring, the great alliances of the orcs — hinting at twisted dwarves and the complicated history of the elves, deftly bringing in little bits of lore so that they’re natural when we come to them in The Lord of the Rings. Not because he was planning it, but because he knew his world and knew how to show it to the reader.

Rating: 5/5

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7 Responses to “Review – The Hobbit”

  1. Ooh The Hobbit! Definitely one of my faves (and one of the inspirations for my blog’s name)!
    Since I’ve first read it as a kid I’ve come to see all the problems of Tolkien’s writing (black-and-white morality, gender issues…), but I still list The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings as seriously wonderful books.
    I dislike the movies, too – for me, the whole point of being a hobbit is non-epicness and this is a point they missed by about a thousand miles in the movies. But I’m still going to go see the last one, I’m sure!

    • Yeaaah. <3

      Yeah, it has got a number of those problems, not to mention the racial issues (ugh, the Easterlings), but there's a lot of wonderful stuff there.

      I do like the LotR movies; I think the casting was great and the adaptation really faithful but within reason (e.g. I hated that they changed Faramir's story, but when I watched the extras they brought that up and explained why, and it made sense). It's just The Hobbit ones that're trying too hard to connect to LotR when they're just… not the same sort of story.

      • Yes, of course, I meant The Hobbit movies. The Lord of the Rings is much more grand and I think they showed that properly in the movies – along with the much less epic scenes with the hobbits.
        But with The Hobbit, they’re pumping unnecessary action into the story (the escape from the elves in Mirkwood is such an example).
        I also think Tolkien has to be cherished for his influence on the genre, if nothing else!

  2. majoline

    The Hobbit is still one of my favorite books of all time, even when LotR is only okay for me.

    I just really love the fact that Bilbo isn’t a hero and he’s never going to be a hero and he still does what needs to get done.

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