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

It was a pleasure to re-read this book in anticipation of the film’s release at the end of the week. This is a must-read for fantasy lovers. Tolkien is the quintessential fantasy author. So many subsequent works have been inspired by or derived from elements of Tolkien’s world. His works allow you to taste it undiluted, from the source. Though it’s not a kids’ book, it would be a good read for a middle-grade reader (as an introduction to fantasy) as well as a book for adults and fantasy lovers of all ages.

The novel follows the adventure of a hobbit named Bilbo. Like most hobbits (small humanoids—smaller than dwarves), Bilbo prefers a quiet life tucked away in his well-provisioned hobbit hole. Hobbits prefer to live by routine. They like comfort and food. But it’s thought that Bilbo’s mother’s side of the family has an adventurous streak (something frowned upon by hobbits in general), and Gandalf the wizard knows it. Gandalf, also a main character in The Lord of the Rings, organizes a quest for Thorin, a high-ranking dwarf, and his twelve companions. But they don’t want unlucky thirteen, and they need a burglar: they’re marching across the Misty Mountains to the Lonely Mountain where lives Smaug the Dragon. Smaug has stolen treasure that Thorin wants to reclaim, and he and his dwarves intend to steal it back.

Along the way, the group encounters many adventures. I won’t ruin the surprises—if you’ve read the book, you already know them, and if you haven’t, you’ll enjoy them. To name a few, these adventuers involve elves, goblins, trolls, and other creepy things. Though some of the obstacles require physical prowess to solve, most of them require wit and bravery—and much luck. You’ll find lots of riddles in the book reminiscent of Oedipus and the Sphinx. There are maps with secret encoding. There’s plenty of action scenes, too. For fans of The Lord of the Rings, we encounter “the one ring” for the first time in this tale! And although this quest is not Gandalf’s, he plays an important role throughout, the rock of the party.

The imagery of Tolkien’s world is amazing. As a kid, I re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings many times, each time building upon the imagery of my imagination. I especially enjoy the fact that Tolkien has an entire world in his mind. When telling the tale of Bilbo Baggins, he lets slip a detail here and there that suggests a much larger, darker tale lurks just below the surface (and indeed, if you read all of Tolkien’s works, you’ll probably come across it!). I feel confident that I, as a reader, am in good hands—that the author is not wasting my time, but rather, is regaling me with countless tales that promise to deliver. One of my favorite parts of the book is the inclusion of songs from the dwarves, elves, etc. They help to build Tolkien’s world and the culture of all the groups.

Still, even if you haven’t read Tolkien’s other works (or don’t plan on doing so), The Hobbit satisfies as a stand-alone novel. The first time I read The Hobbit I was young, and I hadn’t yet read anything else by Tolkien. I have a beat-up copy from the 1960s, and something about the age of the book and the well-loved condition of the cover fits well with Tolkien’s tale. Each time I opened that cover, I felt like I was entering a magical world. If you haven’t read the book, I encourage you to do so. For an adult, it’s a fast read. For a child, it’s a book that will foster the imagination.

I mentioned that I’m excited for the movie release: While I normally say that books are much better than their movie counterparts, I thought Peter Jackson did an excellent job transposing The Lord of the Rings into a movie trilogy. While there are details that necessarily must be left out of a movie version, the film trilogy keeps the flavor of the novels. My parents always joke that if it were humanly possible to walk into a television screen and live forever in the world contained therein, I would have done so long ago with one of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. I have great hopes for the first film in The Hobbit series, and now that I’ve re-read The Hobbit, I’m ready to watch it!