Written By: J.R.R. Tolkien
Published By: George Allen & Unwin
Released: September 21st, 1937
Page Count: 310
Link to Purchase
There are a lot of stories that are important to my personal growth. Stories that made me the man I am today. Among them all, there is one story that towers above them all. One that, had I never experienced, would have completely changed the course of my life more than any other.
I am referring, of course, to the Lord of the Rings.
Lord of the Rings was one of the first stories I ever experienced as a child. I’d watch the movies over and over again, taking in every detail of the world, every line of dialogue, every note of music, even every swing of a sword! Later in life, I’d read each book cover-to-cover several times per year, taking in every word as if it were gospel! This series is so deeply ingrained in my life that I couldn’t possibly imagine what life would be like without it!
Naturally, when I finally got around to reading The Hobbit in middle school, my expectations were high. Part of me expected to be disappointed; even if it were still written by Tolkien, surely it couldn’t be as great as the fantasy masterpiece that made me who I am! Still, I went in with an open mind.
And I was far from disappointed.
Plot: Getting Dragged Out the Door
Do I really need to summarize the story? I feel like we all know it!
Bilbo Baggins is an average, respectable Hobbit living in the Shire. One day, the wizard Gandalf arrives at his door and, despite the Hobbit’s protests, marks Bilbo’s house as a meeting place. Later, a group of thirteen dwarfs arrive at Bilbo’s home and drag him into their quest: to defeat the dragon Smaug and reclaim their home. Now, Bilbo needs to deal with hungry trolls, carnivorous spiders, and more on his journey across Middle-Earth!
This plot is far from deep or complicated. It doesn’t tackle difficult social issues of the time it was released, nor is it a thought inducing story that’ll make you ask questions for years to come. It’s a simple Hero’s Journey story meant for children. And in that regard, it does a fantastic job!
Aside from Bilbo, no character in this story undergoes much of an arc. All of them exist to help drive the plot, and Bilbo, further. They’re all still likable, but they’re far from interesting. Which is fine; this is Bilbo’s story.
Luckily, Bilbo is an amazing character! His growth from a simple-minded fellow who only wants to sit back and relax to a hero craving adventure is incredibly satisfying! It’s one of the best cases of a hero’s journey that I’ve ever seen! Watching a tiny little Hobbit developing the courage to face a dragon is super thrilling!
The pacing in this story is also perfect! Each event flows into the next in a quick, smooth fashion, never wasting a moment of your time! Sure, there is a fair bit of ‘And-Then’ storytelling, where one event doesn’t lead into another. But it’s perfectly excusable, given that all of them are tied together by the larger quest: reach the mountain, defeat Smaug.
I can admit that this isn’t a perfect story. It is a classic, yes. But ‘classic’ is just a polite way of saying ‘aged’. Luckily, this book holds up incredibly well, even today! If I were ever to become a father (unlikely as it may be, I can’t stand kids), this is the story I’d read them to bed.
Followed by Fellowship of the Ring. And The Two Towers. And Return of the King. Yes, I know those three aren’t kids’ stories, shut up. This is my parental fantasy, I’ll do what I want!
Voice: Every Line a Poem
There are a lot of writers that I look up to. That I respect. But none of them, not one of them, even hold a candle to J.R.R. Tolkien! This man is my idol! And this book is, in my opinion, his finest work!
Every single line of dialogue in this book is masterful! Whether the characters are singing songs, speaking riddles, or making a statement, every line is like a poem! They all perfectly encapsulate the character’s personality, from Bilbo’s initially stumbling and terrified reluctance to Gandalf’s grand, majestic, and kind of goofy confidence!
These include my favorite line in any novel ever:
And you do know my name, though you don’t remember that I belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me! To think that I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took’s son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!
-Gandalf the Gray upon being ‘Good Morning’-ed by Bilbo Baggins.
I may live only to be thirty. Perhaps I’ll live to be one-hundred and seven. Either way, I’ll be thinking about this exchange until I die.
Now, the usual Tolkien complaint does still apply to this book. There is still a lot of excessive details in this book, a good majority of which we don’t need. The first three pages are dedicated to describing Bilbo’s home, parentage, and history! None of this information is presented in an organic or interesting way; it’s all exposited at us, right up front!
But at this point in my life, I’ve sort of become numb to it. Once you’ve read enough Tolkien, you get used to it. Plus, it does add a sort of fairy tale vibe to the whole book. Sort of like a story that your grandfather would tell next to the fireplace on Christmas.
Which, given that it was written over seventy-five years ago, it kind of is.
On the cover of the version I have, the book is labeled two things. The first is ‘soon to be a major motion picture!’ all in caps. This is incredibly depressing. Second, right beneath that, is written ‘the greatest fantasy epic of our time’, again in all caps. This is the one that is a) totally correct and b) doesn’t make me want to scrub my own brain with bleach!
No, I won’t talk about the movies. I don’t think I could make myself watch those movies if I was as high as the fucking moon. Don’t even ask.
If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. If you have kids, read it to them when you put them to bed! If you don’t have kids, set aside an hour or so a day and make your way through it. It is a fantastic piece of fantasy literature, one that I believe everyone should give a chance!
Unlike the movies. Those just hurt me.