The Hobbit

Author: J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Publisher: Unwin Paperbacks (1979) [First published 1937]
Number of Pages:
How long it took me to read:
1 and a half weeks
How it was given to me:
Lent to me by my partner

Like a Moth to a Flame

I was drawn back to The Hobbit after my partner read it to her 10-year-old daughter.  I’ve long been a fan of The Lord of the Rings, but its predecessor has always been labelled ‘for children’.  I’d only read it once before – when I was about 10 myself – and began to wonder how Tolkien’s approach had differed for this genre in contrast to his more ‘adult’ writing.  All I could recall of the tale was a misty semblance of Bilbo’s meetings with Gollum and Smaug, and I was sure there was more to rediscover than just these two key moments that had remained clinging to the inside of my head for twenty-five years.  With Peter Jackson’s new cinematic take about to go into production, it seemed like the perfect time for a reminder.

Favorite Five

My favorite 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “His house was perfect whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.  Evil did not come into that valley.” (p.58)

4. “…you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him.” (p.13)

3. “It was a beautiful golden harp, and when Thorin struck it the music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill.” (p.24)

2. “It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did.  The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it.  He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.” (p. 205)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “The lightning splinters on the peaks, and rocks shiver, and great crashes split the air and go rolling and tumbling into every cave and hollow; and the darkness is filled with overwhelming noise and sudden light.” (p.63)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: prosy (adjective)

Definition (Source: prosaic; dull, tedious, wearisome, or commonplace
as above
early 14c., from O.Fr. prose (13c.), from L. prosa oratio “straightforward or direct speech” (without the ornaments of verse), from prosa, fem. of prosus, earlier prorsus “straightforward, direct,” from Old L. provorsus “(moving) straight ahead,” from pro- “forward” (see pro-) + vorsus “turned,” pp. of vertere “to turn” (see verse)
As in:
“You will notice already that Mr. Baggins was not quite so prosy as he liked to believe…” (p.17)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“While reading the first chapter, I may have been too conscious of the idea that this book was written ‘for children’, but the writing offered little to help me overcome this – particularly the farcical repetition of the dwarves one by one invading Bilbo’s little home. It reads more like a device to amuse young minds, or teach them how to count, than an effective way of introducing Gandalf’s cunning, as intended.  But I’m always impatient at the start of books – and my desire to rediscover Bilbo’s adventures clashed irritably with Tolkien’s traditional style of easing his readers in.  At least The Hobbit’s beginning doesn’t extend over a hundred pages, though, as it seems to in The Lord of the Rings.”

“Once the adventure is underway, the story moves at a pace my restlessness is more comfortable with, shifting rapidly from one set-piece to another while still conjuring the passage of time required for the journey itself.  Very soon, I’d forgotten all about the intended audience of the book, entranced by the magic Tolkien invokes through his elegant use of simple, understated language.  My No. 1 quote (above) is a fine example of this, and of how Tolkien doesn’t allow any pedantry over the ‘rules’ of writing to get in the way of his narration – count the use of ‘ands’ in that sentence!  One might argue that ‘this is a book for children’, but Tolkien was a Professor of Language and Literature, and he understood not only how to relate to his chosen audience through language, but also how to deliver an image, or emotive response, to all readers through its use.”

“I’m amazed that many of the events in this book slipped so easily from my memory, as this read-through has scored them there indelibly. The forest, the mountains, the lake – it is the first book I have read for some time that captures such a sense of location, as if I’d been walked through the land by a professional cinematographer.  That it achieves this using such uncomplicated, plain words is a credit to Tolkien’s flair as a storyteller, and a huge pointer for any writers lured into the idea that complexity of language is essential for adult fiction.  Or, perhaps, it’s simply a comment on what my own mind responds best to…?”

“There’s a fantastic sense of threat present in this book, of dark mystery, similar to that in Roald Dahl’s stories – the feeling that, as a child, these are places you should not go if you value your survival.  I’m pleased to report that, as an adult, this remains undiminished. The surprisingly pointed warning against materialism in the last few chapters – the insidious threat to peace brought about not by a known menace, but by one of Bilbo’s own companions – even manages to surpass Babbitt’s laboured attempts at a similar message. It will be interesting to see how much of this is retained in the film version, and what classification rating it will receive.  I would urge anyone interested – children and adults alike – to read the book now, before the film is released, to ensure their first experience is based on the original voice of Tolkien himself.”

Gareth Long

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