Monday, February 9, 2015

"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review

“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? 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!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar. (276)

Leading up to the much anticipated release of the first installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movies, I set forth a new personal law: watch the movie before (re)reading the book. This was laid down after my initial frustrations with some of the Narnia Chronicles movies where I would read the book before watching the movie. Since then, this rule has proven fruitful.

Now that I have watched the trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit, I finally sat down to re-read Tolkien's classic. I had not read it for almost ten years dating back to my college days. Thus much of the details were fuzzing at best. With that said, I offer a few words regarding its content.

First, it is imperative for the reader to know that Tolkien is writing to young readers, not adults. The tone and writing style between The Hobbit and later The Lord of the Rings is striking. When I first read Tolkien, I read the trilogy first and then later its prequel. I was surprised by the difference ignorant of the history of the books. The reader should know that going in.

Secondly, Tolkien is a gifted writer regardless of intended audience. I read the first two paragraphs of the novel to my family and both my youngest (3 and 6) and my wife (30) were excited at the prospect of reading it for themselves. Tolkien is clearly gifted and one discovers this from page one.

Thirdly, it has been rightly pointed out that greed and covetousness is a driving moral theme in the book. The most quoted line is from Thorin as he dies, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now." The Dwarves, trolls, orcs, men, and elves are all guilty of greed. It is the spirit of the dragon that lies within all of us. Thus the real enemy in The Hobbit is not just Smaug that hoards the literal gold under the mountain, but the inward dragon that covets it as well.

Fourthly, though a classic the book does deserve some criticism. Some characters are not named (like the "Elven King who is not named except in the Return of the King appendices). Some of the stories are incomplete. For example, what exactly did Gandalf do when he left the dwarves? The explanation given at the end is incomplete and undeveloped. This is one of the reasons why the movies producers made the changes they made. And they were necessary changes.

More could be said, but being that the book is a modern classic, other, more-gifted critiques are easily available. I would highly recommend everyone to read the book and to watch the movies. Anyone can complain about the many changes made in the movie - and there were many - but I cannot recommend its boycott on purist grounds. Furthermore, one must also know that many of the additions are taken from the appendices in The Return of the King.

Read the book. Devour the book. Enjoy the book. And later, read it again.

For more:
A Few Thoughts on The Battle of the Five Armies
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
Longing for Eden: Tolkien's Insight into the Longing of Every Human Soul
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence
How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings  
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