The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Prior to Lord of the Rings, there was the Hobbit
The Hobbit is a fantasy novel by J R R Tolkien. It is a classic children's book, and while it hints at the darkness to come in Lord of the Rings, it is fun and exciting. For me it is a nice easy introduction to the world of Middle Earth and introduces some of the races that exist there.
Tolkien is the ultimate storyteller, and he doesn't fail with The Hobbit - with his superlative writing style he manages to bring the characters and world alive, somehow making it inhabit an almost real world, with real people.
It's this ability to place you in the thick of the story that makes The Hobbit stand out - if you aren't into the darkness, and the involved plot of Lord of the Rings, then try The Hobbit.
About Bilbo Baggins and his journey.
Bilbo, the main character in the book, is an unassuming character. The book follows Bilbo as he leaves his relatively quiet ‘hole’ in a farming community and moves into the depths of Middle Earth, facing many dangerous creatures and circumstances.
As the journey moves along, with each chapter almost like a mini-story, we see Bilbo grow in both character and maturity; it’s interesting how Tolkien is effectively telling the reader to learn from their experiences and their mistakes.
Like Lord of the Rings, the writing is full of songs and poetry, and this adds an atmosphere and reality to the story that doesn’t exist in many novels – they help to keep the story light, despite some of the dangers Bilbo encounters.
Interestingly many people have pointed out that this book and Lord of the Rings parallels Tolkien’s war experiences, and in fact Lord of the Rings (the sequel) was written while Tolkien was at war as a serial story for his son.
Gandalf, the wise and ancient wizard persuades Bilbo to host a tea-party for a band of dwarves led by Thorin. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, the dwarves have lost a vast treasure to the dangerous dragon Smaug.
As the party continues on, and the Dwarves sing boisterous songs about how they will reclaim their wealth from Smaug, and with it their ancient home in the Lonely Mountain, Gandalf surprises Bilbo by asking him to become a ‘burglar’ for the intrepid dwarves and assist in their quest. Despite the misgivings of the dwarves, and Bilbo’s anger at being tricked into this situation, Bilbo journey away from his safe haven of Hobbiton.
Using a map that shows a secret entrance into the Lonely Mountain, the band of adventurers must cross the Misty Mountains. Captured by Goblins they are forced into some dank and dangerous caves – Bilbo manages to escape but gets lost; wandering around he happens across a strange ring, and is challenged by Gollum into a Rhyming duel. The ring is magical, and with the aid of it, Bilbo is able to become invisible and escape to rejoin with the dwarves, who were rescued by Gandalf.
Thus begins the adventures in their quest to find the Lonely Mountain; along the way they’ll encounter Spiders, Trolls and other nasty creatures.
Will they succeed? Well you’ll just have to read the book won’t you!
The Characters - Bilbo Baggins
Have you ever had an uncle who was lovable but strangely eccentric? Well shorten him to under four foot, give him furry feet, a pipe and a wonderful disposition and you’d end up with Bilbo Baggins.
Bilbo is a highly respected Hobbit who is often more interested in his food cabinets than the actual goings on in the world. If you took a poll in Hobbiton (the Hobbit town), he’d probably come top in the ‘least likely to go on a dangerous adventure’ poll. Somehow though, he finds himself entangled in an adventure with a bunch of dwarves and an old wizard. Initially he blends into the background well, reluctantly taking part in the adventure only when he really has to, but upon finding a magic ring, he becomes far bolder and his strength of character, subtly hidden by his diminutive frame, starts to shine through.
Gandalf the Gray
Gandalf, who will play a more prominent part in Lord of the Rings, is like that meddling Grandfather we all have, who knows the right way of doing everything, and lets you know it often. While perhaps not as aloof as some, he is a very wise and ancient man, who also happened to be able to use magic. Gandalf is instrumental in setting up the quest with Bilbo and the company of dwarves, and takes a minor role in the actual adventure.
Think about all the Dragons you've read about or heard about in your life, add a smidgen of pomposity and stir in some dastardly intelligence and you will get close to Smaug. Not only is he intensely dangerous (well a creature that is the size of the house, can fly, has sharp teeth and claws and breathes fire could hardly be called tame now, could it?), and possesses a wisdom and cruel intelligence that belies his animal form.
Take the nastiest bully at school that you know, enhance his cowardly nature, give him a dusting of deceit and intelligence and then infuse him with the slyness of a fox and you’ll get something close to Gollum. Imagine a creature that stays in the dark, festering in his own sadness and foulness, yet somehow possessing just a touch of honor, and respect and you’ll get even closer. Gollum is really an enigma; after Bilbo meets him you’ll probably leave the encounter feeling a little sad for this lonely and desperate creature.
An there's more....
There are twelve other dwarves in the party that sets out to retrieve the treasure from Smaug. They posses some of the qualities of the ‘famous’ seven dwarves, combined with the Keystone Cops, and perhaps a touch of Abbot and Costello. They add the comedy relief to the book, and there are many wonderful characters.
Along the way you’ll be introduced to some of the more exotic races and creatures of Middle Earth – while these are generally brief encounters, they do give you a glimpse at what is to come in Lord of the Rings. You’ll meet Elves, Trolls, Goblins, Eagles, Evil Wolves and a whole bunch of men, including one who can change into a bear.
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This is a wonderful book - I read it to my kids when they were eight and they loved it. It was one of the first books I read, and will always remain embedded in my heart.