The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

Ah, The Hobbit. A childhood classic, and the prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Its style, though, is quite different to that of TLOTR - it reads more like those childhood fantasy classics of a certain age; Narnia springs to mind, with its faintly moralising narrator and chatty style ("you may remember"; "I have not heard"). For much of the novel it does seem to follow the classic adventure format, with lots of monsters and evil things to fight; but towards the end it gets almost political, with people driven by greed and lust for treasure to unwise words and deeds. And motives that are presented as good to me seem somewhat questionable. For instance, I've never been entirely happy with Bilbo's actions in trying to avoid the final battle - to me, it always feels like betrayal, or at the least deceitful, and it feels that the Elf-king's praise is trying to convince the reader.

But it is undoubtedly a good story, with some truly beautiful prose, for example:

"A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering."

That is, of course, about the unfortunate Gollum, whom we meet for the first time here. And, on the subject of first meetings, it is quite fun spotting elements that will become important in TLOTR , although there are inconsistencies. But I suppose that couldn't be helped, because Middle-earth "grew in the telling".

I also liked the down-to-earth voice of the protagonist, who often seemed an unwilling hero, constantly comparing the comforts of his home to whatever cold and uncomfortable place he found himself in and giving a sense of proportion to the action: it gives the impression that this is a real hero, someone who might actually be real, a sense which is sometimes lost in fantasy.

This is a good starting point for Tolkien newbies, and a good read for children.