This book was a treat for me to read. My mom gave it to me a long time ago, but it honestly always seemed sort of boring to me when I would try to read it, so I never got outside Bilbo’s house in the first chapter. Strangely, I later devoured the much heavier and drier Lord of the Rings trilogy, loving every page. What with The Hobbit movie being released later this year, it seemed high time to give the book another try.
The book chronicles the journey of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit enlisted by Gandalf the wizard to assist thirteen dwarfs on their quest to recover stolen treasure from the dragon Smaug. For those of you living under rocks (or hills, as the case may be) the past century, hobbits are creatures half the size of a man with the features of both men and elves (pointy ears), and some features all their own (large, tough, hairy feet). Hobbits are not prone to adventures, but Gandalf manages to convince Bilbo to leave his home with strange dwarfs and encounter all kinds of entertaining characters along the way.
At this point, no one should doubt Tolkien’s gift for crafting a story. His trilogy is a classic epic, setting the golden standard for fantasy books. But he wrote The Hobbit first, establishing his personable style that appeals more to children in this prequel than in the daunting trilogy. Tolkien is the king of creating real characters out of archetypes. His heroes hardly seem like heroes- Bilbo just wants to go home the whole time, and the dwarfs are mostly just greedy for the gold. But Tolkien lets their better natures rise up to create unity where there was discord. He is particularly adroit at creating distinctions between the dwarfs. Bombur is the gluttonous, lazy one; Balin is the kindhearted, sincere one; Thorin is the gruff leader.
I have to wonder what prompted Tolkien to write Lord of the Rings after this book. There was obviously more story to be told, but Tolkien wrote his stories with themes in mind, so what themes had he left unexplored? I see Lord of the Rings as a quest to overcome true evil, a depiction of the war between good and evil. The Hobbit more quietly addresses the quest to rise above our broken natures. The heroes in Lord of the Rings are more expected- even Frodo is more pure of heart than Bilbo and his clinging to creature comforts. The Hobbit gives us ordinary heroes who decide to rise into the extraordinary.