Reading 2014 1/65 – The Hobbit

In the spirit of trying to write a review of every book that I read this year, I start off with The Hobbit, published on Goodreads. I say a little about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in the review, but it’s by no means a review of the film. I will try to do a review of the film when I get a chance to see it again.

The HobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How do you review one of the most famous works in the English language? I was prompted to read this again after seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I don’t want to talk about the movie except to say that, on reflection (and despite the additions) I think that Peter Jackson has managed to capture the spirit of the book remarkably well. Additionally, Jackson has not only had to make The Hobbit films in the spirit of the book, but also to make them compatible with his earlier Lord of the Rings films.

This is relevant to me as a reader because I approached The Hobbit in much the same way. I had read The Lord of the Rings two or three times before I ever got around to reading The Hobbit. I knew of course that it was a children’s book and was therefore reluctant to try it. I found it difficult to get past the childish asides and, although I thought it a wonderful story, I much preferred its longer offspring.

While The Lord of the Rings was a sequel (because the public wanted more hobbit tales), in a sense it was not. The size and scope of the later work gives it a mythic quality suitable for the Middle Earth sketched out in The Silmarllion. So much so that it was necessary for Tolkien to make revisions to The Hobbit in order to make it compatible with its sequel.

But it remained a children’s book. A children’s book of giant spiders, of goblins and a terrible dragon, but a children’s book nonetheless. But, this time, perhaps I was mature enough to appreciate how bond up with Middle Earth The Hobbit really is. It draws out the bad blood between elves and dwarves. The siege of Erebor by Bard and the men of Lake Town and their elvish allies shows that the future enemies of Sauron don’t simply have a few differences of opinion, easily resolved. It’s only the quick thinking (and slippery fingers) of Bilbo, and the appearance of the goblins and wargs, that makes allies of enemies.

The first cut is always the deepest. I suspect that I will always read The Lord of the Rings by choice over The Hobbit because it was my first encounter with the Middle Earth that I also love. But that it is so reflects a fault in me. The Hobbit is deservedly a classic of English literature. Each journey through it is an enriching experience.

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