The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien 1937)

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The Hobbit is the predecessor to Tolkien’s smash hit, The Lord of the Rings.  However at the time of its publication, The Hobbit itself was subject to great critical reception. The book was so popular that its popularity is the sole reason The Lord of the Rings even exists. Originally conceived while Tolkien was pursuing an academic career, the work went on to be a seminal work of children’s literature and fantasy and was rewritten numerous times to tie into The Lord of the Rings.  The book follows the adventures of Bilbo Bagins and thirteen dwarves, lead by Thorin Oakenshield as they journey to reclaim the lost dwarven gold from the dragon, Smaug.

Contrary to its recent film adaptations by Peter Jackson, The Hobbit, is very concise. Its style is almost story book like. However the narration itself suffers from a number of short points. The most notable is the number of significant actions which occur off screen, such as Smaug’s death at the hands secondary character Bard. However in this case we have the benefit of briefly venturing over to Bard’s point of view. The Necromancer, one of the combatants in the Battle of Five Armies came completely out of left field aside from a few pieces of dialogue and at no point does the reader ever see him.

The climax is probably the weaker aspects of the book, primarily because it occurs after Smaug’s death. This is in part due to Tolkien’s attempts to mimic mythic structures, where such a climax is not uncommon. However in the context of modern viewing, I get the impression that the Battle of Five armies was strictly unnecessary since it had no bearing on any of the main character arcs aside from causing Thorin Oakenshield’s death. If the climax had instead been a battle with Smaug, with Thorin Oakenshield dying in the battle with Smaug, the climax would have been a more satisfying one.

In terms of characters, the work has a lot of personality. While Bilbo, many of the dwarves and secondary characters suffer from being underdeveloped, many of the major characters do get good character development. Of course I am referring to Thorin Oakenshield and Smaug. Thorin is unique in that he is a bit of an anti hero, which I feel is a bold move for a children’s novel. His character arc is about his desire for the jewels, a desire which eventually consumes him. His subsequent redemption arc in the climax is one of the best character arcs in the novel. Meanwhile Smaug is nothing special, he’s just plain evil, but at the same time I admire the character’s intelligence and wit. For a character whom I expected to be a big dumb brute, his personality won me over.

The Hobbit is a book which has in some ways stood the test of time, despite its structural flaws. However since Tolkien was a scholar of works such as Beowulf, I can to some degree understand his decision to emulate them. Ultimately it is neither a children’s book or a fantasy book, but a modern day emulation of the old literature which Tolkien enjoyed reading so much. All throughout the modern day myth is supplemented by Tokien’s wit, making it a thoroughly enjoyable read.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: BREATHTAKING

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