The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

HobbitIn another read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, I reread The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.  This is one I read so long ago (twelve years?  Fifteen?) that it mostly felt like a new read by now.  I kept meaning to read it before the movie (review here)…and then wanted to read it after…and mostly read it now because I plan to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy this spring, and it seemed like a good place to start!

The story, as most of you probably know, follows Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit who only wants a tidy life and regular meals.  He is enticed into an adventure by Gandalf the Grey Wizard, who recruits him to join thirteen dwarves on their quest to reclaim their lost home and treasure from Smaug the dragon.  Adventures along the way involve elves, trolls, goblins, a truly creepy forest and, now and then, even a few humans.

I love Bilbo’s growth as a character throughout the book.  He begins by feeling that adventures are unpleasant things which make one late for dinner (one of my favorite lines!), and comes to find his own strength and ability–and a taste for adventure.  He learns how to use a sword, devise a daring plan, and make a hard decision about loyalties and sacrifice.  There’s a thread that runs through the novel about the state of Bilbo’s pocket handkerchiefs, and it’s just a delightful illustration of how he progresses.

I also love (spoiler?) that Bilbo ultimately does return home.  So often stories like this end up with the character in a new place, or deciding that they don’t really want to go home after all, or realizing that “you can never go home again” as the cliche goes.  (Or there’s Dorothy, who does go home, apparently only learning that home is really wonderful.)  The Hobbit takes a different and more complex path by sending Bilbo back home in the end, meaning that the real exploration is not ultimately how Bilbo’s life changes, but how he himself changes.

The world of Middle Earth is also great fun to explore–and I suspect that was a major part of Tolkien’s inspiration to write the story at all!  It’s a story about a character, but it’s just as much about the wild places he’s wandering through, with so many interesting creatures along the way.  Humans come across as a small minority, present in a few communities but no more dominant than any other species (at least in this installment).

My two favorite scenes are the very funny opening sequence of the dwarves descending unexpectedly on Bilbo, and the quite creepy Riddle contest with Gollum.  I very much look forward to more Gollum in the trilogy to come.

There are aspects to the book that didn’t work as well for me–and at times it’s abundantly obvious this was written in a different time, because a modern writer would make a different choice (or editors would insist on it).  The most obvious, perhaps, is when a character we’ve never seen before ends up killing Smaug.  It’s a rather disappointing way to finish off the dragon…though at least it leads into further excitement.  I’m very curious to see how Peter Jackson, as a modern filmmaker, is going to handle that part.

I also wish the dwarves had been better developed.  Rather like the discussion we’ve been having around the Twelve Dancing Princesses, it’s tough going when you have so many characters to juggle.  There were thirteen dwarves and most were completely undeveloped.  Even the five or so that had some personality were pretty slight.

Last critique–I don’t think there was a single female character with a name or a line of dialogue in the entire book.  For all I know, hobbits, goblins and elves are only men!  The dwarves reference a female relative or two in explaining family connections between men (Fili and Kili are the sons of Thorin’s sister, for instance), and some human women get into boats when Smaug attacks the town…but otherwise, Middle Earth seems to be entirely male.  Frustrating…though, if I can go by the movies, there are at least a few actual female characters in the LOTR trilogy!

Whatever its flaws, this is a still a very fun, very interesting adventure.  And, as I hoped, it’s great gateway-Tolkien, because it has me looking forward to exploring the world more and delving into new characters for the LOTR trilogy.  I’ll let you know how that goes. 😉

Other reviews:
Books Please
The Bookworm Chronicles
Pocketful of Books
There must be many, but I was struggling to find other good reviews…tell me about yours!

Buy it here: The Hobbit

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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20 Responses to The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

  1. Oh, I finished this one recently. I agree, it’s very hard to keep the cast of characters apart, and for the most part, the dwarves are just there. Plus, pairs and triads of them all have similar names and are mentioned together all the time, so it’s almost like they’re the same character. I haven’t seen the movie, but I wonder if it’s easier to keep them apart in the movie when you can see them. How much of the book does the movie cover?

    Guess I’m read to tackle Lord of the Rings. Some time. Haha.

    • The dwarf-names were fun from a poetry-and-fable perspective, but they certainly didn’t help keep the characters straight! A few of the dwarves emerge more strongly in the movie, particularly Thorin.

      The movie only covers the beginning–up until the point when they’re rescued by the eagles. There’s quite a bit added in, apparently (some of it at least) from other Tolkien writings.

  2. lynnsbooks says:

    It’s interesting that you mention about the lack of female characters in The Hobbit. I can’t say it’s something that ever bothered me overly but I like the fact that Peter Jackson’s LoTR does reference this – particularly in relation to the fact that you never see female dwarves:

    Gimli: It’s true you don’t see many dwarf women. And in fact, they are so alike in voice and appearance, that they are often mistaken for dwarf men.
    Aragorn: [whispering] It’s the beards.
    Gimli: And this in turn has given rise to the belief that there are no dwarf women, and that dwarves just spring out of holes in the ground!
    [Eowyn laughs]
    Gimli: Which is, of course, ridiculous.

    I love that scene – and rest assured there are females in LoTRs.
    Lynn 😀

  3. dianem57 says:

    That is a great line about how adventures make one late for dinner! Good thing Bilbo didn’t let that philosophy stop him from his adventure after all.

  4. I’m so glad I didn’t get around to rereading this before seeing the movie… I must’ve read this book dozens of times growing up, so the changes quite jarred me. Having reread it before seeing the movie would have made the jarring even worse. T-T I’m hoping rewatching it will help with that!

    I love your insights and criticisms on the book. (For me, it’s very definitely one of those books I’m too attached to for much sense.) But the point I think I resonate strongest with is the comment you make about Bilbo going home. It also makes me especially curious what you’ll make of LotR in that regard. ^-^

    • That is a hazard of reading a book just before a movie. I had forgotten so much, even though a lot of the movie seemed unfamiliar, it didn’t bother me too much. I think it’s good I didn’t get around to a reread earlier too!

      I definitely have books I love too much to coherently critique 🙂 Glad you enjoyed my comments! I’ve seen the LOTR movies so I have some idea of how characters’ lives turn out…it’ll be interesting to compare!

      • lynnsbooks says:

        I agree with Lynn above and wish that somebody had told me not to reread the book before seeing the film – it just made the changes stand out so very much more!
        Lynn 😀

      • Lynn says:

        I’m glad it didn’t bother you too much! (I hope I’ll like it more as a movie on a rewatch, but I doubt I’ll ever like it as an adaptation.)

        Oooh, yes! It will! XD I hope you’ll have fun comparing them!

  5. kamo says:

    You know, one of these days I’m really going to have to get around to reading this. Trouble is, it’s one of those books that is so ingrained in the popular consciousness that I know most of what happens already. Riddles in the Dark, Smaug, Thorin; I feel like I’m familiar with all of these, so it’s interesting what people are saying about re-reading it feeling like the first time.

    In a funny kind of way, it suspect it might be a bit like Catcher in the Rye, in that you need to read it for the first time when you’re fairly young or else you’re never really going to ‘get’ it like you might have done.

    • That’s an interesting observation…I definitely feel like I hear Tolkien and the Hobbit (and more so, LOTR) referenced in general, but not in any specific terms very often. It felt like a new read because I hadn’t thought about any of the details in a long time (barring what was in the movie…and that was largely different).

      You may have a point about being the right age–I read Catcher in the Rye “too late” apparently. Despised it!

  6. I reread this one recently. It is still great fun, but very very different in tone and feeling from The Lord of the Rings. this is very much a lighthearted adventure meant for children. I can’t remember when I first read it, but it is one that I’ve read and reread, and I hope will continue to reread for a very long time 🙂

    I do agree that there aren’t enough women in Tolkien’s works, I seem to recall hearing that the reason he had Eowyn in LOTR was because a female relation of his gave out to him about it. But that just be rumour and myth-making 🙂

  7. As an adult re-reading this book I think really got to appreciate the development that Bilbo as a character goes through. I also love how unlike many fantasy adventures that Bilbo does go home even though he changes as a person. I think that is quite a comforting end.

    I can’t say the lack of female characters has ever bothered me. I can see what you mean though, and can assure you there are female characters in The Lord of the Rings.

    • I don’t generally mind predominantly male books/stories. I mean, I love the original Star Trek, where all my favorite characters are men, and I enjoy Horatio Hornblower, set in the Royal British Navy…but in Tolkien, the women became positively conspicious by their absence! Having none at all, and with no particular reason (i.e., we weren’t on a Navy ship) got to be a bit striking. I look forward to having some women in the trilogy! 🙂

  8. the lack of women in these stories has always bothered me. i’m always glad when somebody points it out, since the general view seems to be that the stories are perfect. They are great stories, but i wish there were more meaningful roles for women

  9. Yes, Tolkien is from another time. My love likes to say he is from a homosocial world – one where men and women just didn’t exist together socially. I just yesterday read a Guardian article about the next episode here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2013/mar/25/hobbit-desolation-smaug-sneak-preview . It looks like not only is Peter Jackson trying hard to find some way to insert some women, but he’s introducing the character of Bard much earlier – which I didn’t understand the need for until reading your thoughts here.

    • Fascinating sneak preview at the movie! I’m not surprised Bard will be coming in earlier–I was thinking that would be the only reasonable way to handle it. And I think he could be a very cool character with more screentime. So I approve!

  10. Hilcia says:

    I agree with much of what you say about The Hobbit, Cheryl. After years, I re-read this book for the first time right before the movie released back in December of 2012. In many ways it was like reading it for the first time.

    Your criticisms resonate with me. The dwarves became interchangeable to me, except for Thorin and a (very) few others. They were a lot less “heroic” than I remember, and the lightness and lack of dark moments (except for the scene with Gollum) surprised me! But, I think this has to do with the fact that I re-read Lord of the Rings yearly and those books are heavier in content and the world-building much more complex.

    That surprising ending to the dragon didn’t bother me as much as it usually does! I kept reminding myself too that this book was initially written for young adults, and it read very much as a young adult story to me. I enjoyed the journey. 🙂

    • I also was surprised by how NOT heroic the dwarves ended up being! I hadn’t remembered that. I liked Bilbo’s character growth, but was a little disappointed with the bumbling dwarves who didn’t seem able to handle anything themselves. Ah well.

      Looking forward to reading the trilogy, to see how it compares!

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