The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The Hobbit Paperback book | Lydia Sanders #TwistyMustacheReviews

Any time I start The Lord of the Rings, I feel obligated to read the whole trilogy—which is why I’ve only read it once in its entirety. Not so with The Hobbit. I can read one book and then move on to something else. It isn’t as big of a commitment, and I appreciate that. This is at least my third time reading it, maybe my fourth or fifth—I don’t remember.

I used to tell people interested in The Lord of the Rings to check out The Hobbit first, but as I’ve been rereading the books this time, I realize that LOTR and The Hobbit have some important differences that could make them appeal to different people. Today I’m going to get into some of the features of The Hobbit, who might like it, and who would do better to go straight to LOTR.

Description

Bilbo is a hobbit—a little fellow living in a rural setting not altogether unlike Victorian England. Hobbits are dignified, proper, and suspicious toward outsiders. They are disinclined to go on adventures.

Bilbo begins his story living in a very comfortable hobbit hole and eating six square meals a day. He appears to have no real occupation, and his main hobby is blowing smoke rings. His life is comfortable and boring.

Then Gandalf the wizard shows up and wrangles Bilbo into the adventure of his life—an expedition with 13 dwarves to reclaim their ancestral home and somehow defeat the dragon that has taken it and filled it with treasure.

Through a series of episodic adventures, Bilbo goes from being just a hobbit to being the sort of hobbit that can be useful on the quest—but the change doesn’t alter everything about Bilbo. His down-to-earth hobbit-ness plays a pivotal role in the final part of the story.

The Hobbit was first published in 1937. Tolkien later revised it, so other editions mesh better plot-wise with LOTR, but the two stories still maintain a very different feel.


Features of The Hobbit


The first thing that you should know about The Hobbit is that it’s a children’s book. As such, Tolkien tells the story differently than if he’d intended it for an adult audience. These differences are especially noticeable if you finish reading The Hobbit and immediately pick up The Fellowship of the Ring (not a children’s book), which what I just did.

Narrator/Prose

The Hobbit has a sometimes conspicuous first-person omniscient narrator. Usually the story is told as through the eyes of a third-person omniscient narrator, but occasionally there are sentences like this:

"I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us." (pg 2)

This point of view used to be much more common, especially in children’s literature. These days people might find that it pulls them out of the story.

I think Tolkien’s narrator gives the story a personal and conversational feel, as if your British grandfather is telling you a bedtime story.  Some of the words and phrases used to create this conversational feel are contemporary to Tolkien’s time and place, so they may require some explanation to modern readers, especially American children.

Tolkien is also fond of long sentences, sometimes with parenthetical asides. I’m not sure if this was problematic at the time, but to me it seems out of place in a children’s book. The easiest ways to get around the potential confusion are with a well-done audio version, or by reading the book aloud to your kids.

The narrator also pulls book toward “telliness” which creates a less-immersive story experience than a first-person limited narrator or a close third-person narrator might. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  With telling you can cover a lot of information very quickly, so when done well, telling makes it easier to create an expansive world and the sense of wonder that goes with it. Telling stories with less detail is also less likely to cause nightmares because any violence, etc. isn’t overly graphic. For lighthearted adventure books like The Hobbit, it can be the perfect tool.

Plot/Structure

The Hobbit follows an episodic story structure with a new adventure in every chapter, especially in the first nine chapters. The last ten chapters have a more unified plot arc, but it's not like they end with cliffhangers.  I think this makes for great bedtime reading.

There are a few moments in this story that seem a little too lucky at first, but they almost always end in disaster. Together, they work great in the plot structure and bring a sense of realism to an otherwise extraordinary tale. I want to geek out about the ending so badly right now, but I can’t do it without spoilers. Read it, and maybe someday we can geek out together.

Character

Bilbo is technically an adult in hobbit terms, but he is designed as a little person that kids can relate to.  Because he’s an adult, going off on an adventure doesn’t require his parents to be dead, evil, or stupid, so that could be a positive for parents who dislike books for kids where all of the adults are always wrong.

Bilbo has a great character arc, complete with believable waffling back and forth between “Gung-ho! Let’s go on an adventure," and “I wish I was comfortably at home with my beautiful pantry full of food.”


Bottom Line


I love The Hobbit. It's just a fun book. This book is great for anyone who wants a lighthearted adventure story with a child-like sense of wonder.

It would also be great as bedtime reading to your 7-11 year olds. Because of the sometimes long and complicated sentences, I think you should read it to them. It’s not likely to induce nightmares (there's no overly detailed violence or anything) and a lot of the chapters end at good stopping points.

If you can’t deal with the telly first-person omniscient narrator, move on to something else. The Lord of the Rings provides a more immersive reading experience, but the world is full of great books, so if Tolkien in general is just too setting-focused for you, don't feel like you have to read it.




I give The Hobbit 6/7 twisty mustaches and I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This post is a continuation of my series on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien which started with My Top 7 Tips for Reading The Silmarillion.

Have you read The Hobbit? What did you think of it? Are there any other books you'd like me to read and review? Leave a comment below or my hairless ghost lemur will haunt your dreams.

Review of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien | Lydia Sanders #TwistyMustacheReviews

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