The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Heldig and The Hobbit in her basket.

Why I Read It: Participated in a great Read-Along over at Snobbery.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy buffs, classic lovers, folks with hairy feet fetishes.

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Company (1997)

Length: 256 pages

Part of me feels like this timeless classic hardly needs a review. But I am going to do it anyway. First off, say ‘Bilbo’ three times fast without snickering. Go on, I will wait over here for the giggles to subside.

I enjoy J. R. R. Tolkien’s works, but I am not a fanatic. For those of you who take him seriously, you may want to avert your eyes from this review.

I really enjoyed The Hobbit. I had not read it since the 6th grade some 20+ years ago. I found all the singing silly and clever at the same time, which I think is appropriate for a children’s book. Gandalf seemed to be a little more tricksy in this novel than in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He did put that secret mark on Bilbo’s door, marking him as a thief and burglar (just what the Dwarves ordered). The Dwarves show up unannounced, in bright, differently-colored cloaks, demanding 5-star hotel service (meal, drink, bed). In some ways, it is the Dwarves that are thieves, stealing Bilbo off to adventure with them. It’s not as simple as ‘get past the dragon that is sitting on our gold’. No! they have to actually make it to the mountain.

There are trolls, and elves, and werebears, and goblins and dark, spooky forests, and spiders of unusual size (SoUS) to over come. And once all that is done and the treasure recovered, the Dwarves have left a long list of ticked off folks and few enough friends. Hence, the War of Five Armies commences. Messy.

All in all, I greatly enjoy Tolkien’s simple plot and expert word play with character and place names. For the linguists out there, Tolkien’s works are riddled with ancient myth and cryptic language references. If you get some of these, you can sit around and feel extra superior as you read your special hardback edition at the cafe while drinking your spiffy fancy tea .

What I Liked: Hairy feet; brightly cloaked Dwarves; talking birds; dogs that can set the table; play on words; the Wargs; the singing; Smaug the dragon; Bard of Lake Town.

What I Disliked: Not a single female anywhere in the book – no female Hobbits, Elves, Wargs, Goblins, birds, ponies…. you get the point. It’s a 256 page long sausage fest.

The Hobbit Read Along Part I

Heldig in her basket. Yes, those are kitty nibble marks on the corner.

First off, a big thanks to Snobbery for inspiring this reread and letting me join in the fun. She has a most excellent discussion of the first 5 chapters, with pictures. Pretty snazzy. So make sure you make your way over there for the bulk of the fun in sharing this book.

I first read this book when I was in 6th or 7th grade and I am shamed to say I have not read it since. Yet it was such a vivid book that so many parts have stuck with me over the years. Oh, and that silly cartoon that I watched over and over again as a kid with all the singing really reinforced the book.

Last year I listened to this great lecture series (Modern Scholar: Tolkien and the West by Michael D. C. Drout) on iTunes that talked about the influences on Tolkein in crafting his stories and went on to discuss Tolkein’s influence on future generations of writers. It was really enlightening about how Tolkien pulled so much from the old European tales, legends, and pantheons of gods. He crafted The Hobbit and his publisher had a young relative read it to see it was worthy. It was . It took Tolkien decades to come up with a sequel, which became much larger and more serious than a child’s book (The Lord of the Rings trilogy). I find it fascinating that he never did stop writing in this world he created, coming up with languages and complicated histories for each of the races.

Snobbery has supplied us with some insightful questions.

1) Songs.  We’ve had a few already.  Did you read/sing them to yourself, or did you skip past them?

I read them. Singing in bed to the cat seemed silly and she has a tendency to whap my lips if I make too much noise while she sleeps on my chest. I enjoyed them as I felt they helped move the story forward or gave background info/motivations to the characters. Though I will admit the dishes songs (where the dwarves are testing the limits of Bilbo’s hospitality) were a bit silly.

2) For those of you who haven’t read The Hobbit before, what are your first impressions based on these initial chapters?  For those of you re-reading, how has your opinion of these chapters changed since the first time you read them?

To this day, I can still remember that The Hobbit was my first book that featured dwarves. It was such a puzzle to me as I had never met anyone really short up to that point and I found it awesome that a revered book featured these folks that were not the standard tall, bronzed, athletic hero types. We got the Geriatric Hero in Gandalf (this name translates as Elf with Stick, I think), our short, Awkward Bearded Heroes in the dwarves, and the Hesitant And Befuddled Hero Bilbo Baggins. This is definitely not your standard adventure story.

Shortly after reading this book, I watched Willow with Warwick Davis. Awesome movie. Still one of my favorites to this day.

3) How do you feel about the way Bilbo escaped from Gollum/the Goblins?  Was he cheating?  Or did he do what had to be done?  This isn’t a question about the narrative aspects (because we know there would have been no story if he’d been gobbled up right away), but rather do you believe he could have clarified?  Stopped Gollum from trying to guess what he had in his pockets?

Definitely a cheat. But his life was on the line, so I cut him slack. I would have done the same thing myself. Did Gollum truly expect to have his opponent loose and then simply lie down and expose his throat for a death bite? If I ever end up in a Riddle Battle, and I loose, and I am about to be eaten, well…. that is the perfect occasion to pull out the hidden knives. Totally socially acceptable.

Other tidbits:

I have had a hairy feet fetish since I was young. I think it started with this book. (Hey! I can see you looking at me sideways!)

Good thing trolls are an argumentative lot and not that bright. I was really worried that the adventure party number was going to decrease right from the beginning.

At Elrond’s place I loved the description that every kind of hospitality could be had depending on what you liked: songs late into the night, good eating, work. Huh, work? Labor as a source of distraction and fun on your vacation is not something I understood as a kid. But now as a farmer, I get it. I would rather be helping friends/relatives with home repairs, gardening, animals on my little vacation than site-seeing.