Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Hobbit, or There And Back Again

In 1936, a 10-year-old boy had the power to decide whether or not his father's publishing house was going to print out a manuscript that he had been given to read. In 2014, a 23-year-old woman is immensely glad that the boy said "yes" – because that manuscript was one of J.R.R. Tolkien's, which we nowadays know as The Hobbit, or There And Back Again!

I don't know if I belong to a minority here, but I read The Lord of the Rings before The Hobbit. I was deeply impressed by the character of Bilbo Baggins right from the start, and was absolutely thrilled when one of my friends told me there was actually a sort of prequel to Rings that was centered around my favourite hobbit. This same amazing person then gave The Hobbit to me as a birthday gift, and since then I have been reading it more or less once a year – so here we have one more example of a "children's book" that can cross over age classifications.

This is the part where I'm done with the introduction and intend to move on to my thoughts on the book, but before I do that I just have to mention really quickly that all the pictures in this post are by John Howe, who has made many wonderful illustrations for Tolkien's works. He even impressed Peter Jackson, who hired him (and Alan Lee) to do conceptual design for the films. So remember to admire John Howe's artwork while you read the post, alright?

Bilbo's Front Hall
In this age when movie-goers everywhere have seen two-thirds of Peter Jackson's epic, block-buster take on The Hobbit, is there anyone who doesn't know the story? Well, it seems I need that plot summary for myself in order to decide what things I want to point out, so here goes: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who lives a quiet and comfortable life in the finest hobbit-hole of the village until the wizard Gandalf comes by with the idea that Bilbo would make a good addition to a company of 13 dwarves who are about to embark on a long journey to the Lonely Mountain, which they intend to take back from the evil dragon Smaug whose attack on the mountain ended a once-thriving kingdom. Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarf company, is the descendant of the King under the Mountain and becomes more and more obsessed with gaining back his home as well as the fabulous treasure that the dragon guards. The 13 dwarves and the bemused hobbit encounter many adventures and dangers on their long journey, and little by little Bilbo proves his worth as Gandalf predicted. He also plays the famous match of riddles against Gollum and acquires a mysterious ring without having any idea how important this discovery will be.

An Unexpected Party
I should warn you that this book review is in great danger of becoming a Shameless Tribute to the Incomparable Awesomeness of Bilbo Baggins. Really, though, who can blame me for that? What is there not to admire about Bilbo Baggins? He is the very definition of an unlikely hero who has to end up in tight spots in order to show his best qualities. The dwarves would never have got past Mirkwood without Bilbo! He develops from an uncertain tag-along to a respected member of Thorin's company, and finally he makes decisions of his own when he realizes that Thorin's quest might not be so rightful and respectable after all. There is a great Genius Bilbo Moment in almost every chapter, and each of them builds his character significantly. He accepts that he is small and apparently insignificant to everyone around him, and he is smart enough to use it for his advantage. Everyone should take notes from Bilbo, seriously.

Gwaihir's Eyrie
One of the most common criticisms agains The Hobbit is that Bilbo is pretty much the only well-rounded character. The company of dwarves is mainly a bunch of confusingly similar names with no individual personalities, apart from Thorin whose long-kept bitterness and growing greed get a fair amount of attention especially towards the end of the book. The other 12 dwarves, on the other hand; Balin is the wise one, Bombur is the fat one, and Óin and Glóin light the fire – that's pretty much all you get out of them. One of my favourite things in the first Hobbit film was how they managed to make the dwarves into proper characters. Frankly, I don't mind their under-development in the book that much, because Bilbo makes up for them and there is so much going on anyway.

Smaug the Golden
The Hobbit is a proper adventure story in the sense that there's a wonderful variety of  locations. The places I always look forward to most when I travel with Bilbo and the dwarves are Rivendell, Beorn's house, the Woodland King's court and Lake Town. Tolkien doesn't devote quite as many pages to setting the scene and describing everything in minute detail as he does in The Lord of the Rings, but that's alright because I don't mind having the freedom to imagine. I'm especially intrigued by the elves of Mirkwood – the first Middle-Earth elves I met were the noble, serene and profoundly wise Eldar in The Lord of the Rings, and I quite like their wilder relatives in the dark, scary woods. Even if they are a little unreasonable in imprisoning the dwarves, you have to give them credit for going on hunting trips in a forest infested with giant spiders. Besides, King Thranduil turns out to be pretty decent in the end.

Smaug Destroys Lake Town
To finish off the review, let's get back to Bilbo's Incomparable Awesomeness – I managed to shut up about it for two paragraphs already, didn't I? Somewhere back between the first and second Hobbit films, there was a website that I can't find anymore which posted a rather brilliant poll on Bilbo's best moments. So I'm going to list all of Bilbo's great deeds in a similar fashion and ask you to comment on what is your favourite and why. And, to be absolutely mean, I'm going to make you choose just one. If you haven't read the book and don't want spoilers on the remaining Hobbit film, you probably should skip the poll.

So, what in your opinion was Bilbo's bravest deed on his journey to the Lonely Mountain?

  1. Deciding to go on an adventure in the first place
  2. Sneaking up on the trolls
  3. Playing riddles with Gollum
  4. Saving his friends from the giant spiders
  5. Getting everyone out of King Thranduil's dungeons
  6. Burgling from Smaug
  7. Giving the Arkenstone to Bard and King Thranduil behind Thorin's back
My choice would be number 7, without a doubt. After doing so much to aid the dwarves, Bilbo realizes that Thorin has been overcome by greed and the best thing to do is that one thing that will upset Thorin the most. 

1 comment:

  1. I read TH before LOTR, and didn't actually like it much. I re-read it earlier this year and liked it better, but still don't love it, I'm afraid. However, at least I do enjoy and like it now! Can't wait to see the third installment in December :-D