'The Hobbit - or There and Back Again' by J.R.R. Tolkien

By Ashley Houk,

The front of my book boasts “THE GREATEST FANTASY EPIC OF OUR TIME.” Now, I’m not sure when “our time” actually is; it’s either 1937, when the book was written, or present day. Regardless of which is right, JRR Tolkien’s prelude to The Lord of the Rings is, in fact, epic and great.

Maybe it’s because I’m shamefully a fan, to some extent, of anything fantasy based, but I flew through this faster than I remember reading it the first time. One of the best things about The Hobbit is that you’re never in want of action. Within the first few chapters we meet Gandalf, the dwarves, and have some information about the journey that is ahead.

Then as adventures come along, the pace speeds up just enough to make you want even more. Though the narrative style isn’t one of my favorite things, it certainly helps with moving the plot along nicely. Tolkien has employed something that is an excellent (and sophisticated) combination of a children’s book and an epic poem. The flow and rhythm are exacting and smooth.

The character development is satisfying for the most part, too. Gollum is exactly as I remember him from the LOTR movies; Gandalf is wise, a little vague and almost menacing at times—occasionally I’m not sure how to feel about his motives/intentions.

My only major complaints are a few instances of overly obvious foreshadowing, a horrifying scene with giant spiders that addled my phobia, disappointing fight scenes, and the characterization of Bilbo.

Poor Mr. Baggins is our ‘hero’ and ‘burglar.’ Good for him, but he is by far the least likable character (in my opinion). Of course he has his advantages: he’s stealthily quiet, pretty clever, and grows braver with every obstacle. But most of the time…he’s whiny, mopey, and seemingly confused. However, he didn’t choose this adventure, it chose him (or more accurately, he was chosen FOR it), so it’s understandable that he wouldn’t always be chomping at the bit for more!

After a long battle with goblins outside of Lonely Mountain, Gandalf remarks on Bilbo’s survival. This, he attributes to the hobbit’s luck, much like he does with many things throughout the novel. Though the premise of this is that there is more about Bilbo than anyone, even Bilbo himself, knows it leads to a bit of disenchantment. By supposing this is true, it would bring one to believe that successes are based on sheer luck, rather than on skill, determination, or hard work.

While the broader theme of belief becoming truth lies at the heart, the focus on luck comes close to negating it entirely.

As Bilbo succeeds in defeating foes, saving his friends, plotting clever getaways, and successfully completing his first adventure, the more he begins to believe in the Tookish side of himself. Never forget the Took that lives in you and always stay true! Belief is a powerful tool.

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