Friday, December 13, 2013

The Hobbit (Reprise)

 In honor of the US release of the Desolation of Smaug today, I'm doing a reprise of my review of The Hobbit, (the book), from its original posting in April, 2012. I'm quite looking forward to seeing the film, and I'm sure many of you are as well! :)

These are my first impressions of The Hobbit. I've read it twice now, and learned a lot more about Tolkien's world since, but it's fun to remember what I thought of it when hobbits and dragons and Middle Earth were all new to me. I've also reviewed The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, which you can find under Tolkien in the Book Reviews tab.


The Plot 
I had the exceeding privilege of ordering an annotated edition of The Hobbit for my first exposure to Tolkien. It added much to my pleasure, because it contained many of his philological notes in the margins, as well as old book covers, illustrations he liked and hated, and notes about the creating of his world, Middle Earth. I remember the first night I looked at The Hobbit: I had just finished an Australian book, the Magic Pudding (finished it with a flashlight under the covers. I couldn't sleep.) So, still wide-awake, I pawed around my book stack. I knew what I wanted: this strange book that was supposed the be the first in the legendary Lord of the Rings series. One by one, I quietly rustled through the pages of chapter one "The Unexpected Party". I didn't really have an expectation for the story, but from what I had heard of the Lord of the Rings, but I remember expecting it to be a bit more...epic. So far, it was just about a bunch of dwarfs eating dinner with a fanciful creature called a hobbit, and planning an expedition to kill a dragon. Nice. I didn't have anything against dragons, mind you, or dwarfs for that matter, but I thought that The Hobbit seemed a bit simpler than Narnia, and I wondered what the uproar had been about. But, I determined to enjoy it, even if it was a children's book. The poetry was quite good, at least, and the British humor popped up continuously, which is a definite plus.

And then... But wait. I get ahead of myself. You really wanted to know what the plot was.

Simply put, it's about a cozy little hobbit, a creature a bit like a dwarf, with furry toes and colorful waistcoats, and a love of numerous meals all on time. The hobbit we're referring to is named Bilbo Baggins is very comfortable with the way his life is going, until one day the wizard Gandalf shows up, and his life is forever changed. The wizard Gandalf is looking for someone to go on an adventure--a burglar, in fact. And he has chosen Bilbo Baggins to fill the role. Thirteen dwarfs and a few songs later, Bilbo finds himself leaving the Shire to travel to dark and distant lands to kill a dragon and get back a huge pile of treasure that rightfully belong to the dwarfs. From giant spiders, to goblins, to fierce wolves, he has to lead the dwarfs to their ultimate destiny, and they seem to think that poor, ordinary Mr. Baggins has all the solutions to whatever problems they will face.

Now we can get to 'And then'. Innocent as this story sounds, darker strands soon begin to appear that are not usually found in children's stories. The dwarfs are greedy creatures, and the lust for gold grows stronger and stronger the closer they get to their destination. Greed is oftentimes treated as a joke in literature, but Tolkien foreshadows dark problems in the plot because of this vice. Also, among his journeys, Bilbo finds a ring. A ring that has a special power to do something (which I wont give away) and that causes him to tell a lie for the first time in his life. This small incident is what ties it into LOTR, and the whisperings of future trouble appear when Bilbo sees the strange effect it has had on its former possessors.

We'll talk about fantasy later. But for now, I would reassure you on two points in looking at reading this book: first, it's much like Narnia--not necessarily in plot, but in type of fantasy. Both Lewis and Tolkien has a Judeo-Christian background, though Tolkien was Catholic, and if you take the time to look and evaluate, you'll clearly see the biblical morality in both works.

And as for the question of Bilbo being hired for a burglar--or as Gloin the dwarf says "You can say Expert Treasure-Hunter if you prefer"--well, if he steals anything, it shall be resolved. I promise. And the dragon is the thief of the treasure. Bilbo isn't going to steal it from the dragon, but to restore to the dwarfs what is rightly theirs. No situational ethics, I promise you. :)

Score one for Tolkien. I should have trusted all those who had gone before. Though I had my doubts at first, by chapter two, I was hooked. And I've never looked back.

My Thoughts
 I have to say, I would only criticize Tolkien for giving away so much before he gets to the end. He gives
away the final battle. He gives away the fact that Bilbo makes it to the end. He gives away quite a few events by saying, "but they were wrong, as you shall see". I didn't even notice this until I read the book aloud to my family, but they kept laughing when he killed all the suspense. I was happy to find that he didn't do this in LOTR nearly as much.
The humor was so funny, and I loved Bilbo's lines. They in themselves made the book, much like A.A. Milne's humor turns Pooh Bear from a cute Disney creation to an intelligent fairy tale.
There were quite a few talking animals. I was glad LOTR didn't rely so heavily on those for the climax rescue points as The Hobbit did. Not that I mind talking animals so much, but personally, I think it's more epic when the characters have to work themselves out of the ditch. It's the point that you are taught at writer's conferences, the point that says when the character reaches the darkest moment, the helper comes not to solve the problem for them, but to point them in the right direction. At first, all the climaxes were solved for Bilbo, but later on he had to work to find solutions for them. But in saying that, I'm not criticizing the element of providence that Tolkien includes. Bilbo finding the ring in the dark is Providential. Bilbo thinking of the key to open the door in the mountain is providential. I think the providence theme shines thorough not when Bilbo is picked up out of his problems without a bit of effort on his part, but when he is given a piece of knowledge or help that he could not have gotten on his own, and helps him to make the final leap to success. It's a bit like overcoming temptation--God gives us a way of escape, but we have to choose whether we will follow it or not. We're given everything we need for life and godliness, but we still have to practice it. So my favorite parts were when Bilbo had to put forth a little effort in the critical moment--like putting the dwarfs in barrels, or the riddle competition with Gollum.
By far, my favorite theme in The Hobbit is the fact that is so clearly expressed: God uses the weak things to shame the strong. There is no allegorical representation of God in the Hobbit, though you will find it in his other works, but you still see the Christian influence shine through. When we first meet Bilbo, he doesn't think he can do it. But by the end, he's looking beyond what he thinks he can do to what needs to be done. And in the end, when he's a bit proud of his success, Gandalf reminds him fittingly that all his 'good luck' wasn't really his at all: "You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

I am exceedingly glad to have met this little fellow. Because he's an essential prelude to the events yet to come. And without humble Bilbo Baggins, we could never have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings. :)

The Movie
The whole reason for this blog post, is of course, the release of the Desolation of Smaug today! :) I'm seeing it tomorrow, but for those of you who will see it today, I hope that you find infinite enjoyment from it. I found a very nice trailer last night that I had never seen before, so in case others haven't as well I'll link to it for your viewing pleasure. For those of you who have not seen Tolkien, please note that the movie is rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, some of which are included in the trailer I linked to.

I've seen the first film in the Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, twice now, and I'm greatly looking forward to finding out what's next. Martin Freeman does an incredible performance as Bilbo, and Smaug is already spectacular, just from the trailers. I have every expectation of Bilbo's time in the Lonely Mountains being fully satisfactory. There remains to be seen what Peter Jackson will do with the new plot additions--but all in all I'm anticipating it with much pleasure.

Do you plan to see the movie today? And if so, what are you most looking forward to about it? :)

Lady Bibliophile


  1. ...And the eagles came and rescued them. XD Although it was also good when Bilbo had to get himself out of the mess.
    Ah, yes! The lovely British humor! "Calling each other very appropriate and applicable names" The best quotes are from his encounter with the trolls. ;)
    I hope you have a grand time seeing it tomorrow! :D

    1. I love the "Eagle Rescue" flowcharts. :D
      Thank-you! I shall tell you all about it when I get back! <3


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