The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit who doesn't take much after his Took side of the family. Adventure might be in his blood, but it's not really his thing. He'd rather stay in his nice home under the Hill and have tea. But adventure comes knocking in the form of one wizard, Gandalf, and thirteen dwarves. Gandalf has volunteered Mr. Baggins to be the burglar for these dwarves. To steal into their former home and get back their treasure from a nasty dragon by the name of Smaug. Bilbo would rather say no, but he doesn't get the choice.
So off he goes on an amazing adventure that takes him across Middle Earth and to very dangerous places. Bilbo discovers just how much he is capable of (more than he imagines), and proves his worth again and again to the dwarves. Of course, Gandalf knew he was capable of that all the time.
This was a lovely story. I had never read any Tolkien prior to this, so it was fascinating getting to experience his work firsthand. He clearly has a love of song and poetry, and the epic works of bravery and adventure. It took some getting used to, but I decided I liked how he used lots of songs in this work. I would even read them aloud to myself.
I appreciated the time spent in crafting this world, replete with various types of folk, from Hobbits to Elves, Trolls, Goblins, Dwarves, a bear Shape-changer, Wargs (werewolves), talking ravens, great War Eagles, nasty giant Spiders, and even a grumpy Dragon. I liked that Mr. Tolkien told us a little of each, but primarily integrated this knowledge into the story so we could see for ourselves what they were made of.
This book was a great mix of humor and adventure. Tolkien doesn't seem to take himself too seriously, and his narrative shows a lively sense of humor and a good-spirited view of the world. It's clear that he has some things to say about what was going on in the world of his times, but he doesn't use his story to beat the reader over the head with his beliefs. Instead, one gets the clear impression that Tolkien questions the advance of industrialization and how it might cause the loss of things much more valuable in the world. And to think he uses a mythical world and mythical creatures, and tells a great story along the way, making that the clear focus. Personally, I think a writer can reveal a lot about himself without taking a reader out of the story and into editorial land, and that is clearly the case with Mr. Tolkien in this novel.
Bilbo is definitely an unlikely hero, which is one of my favorite kinds. He shows that being a hero is both a lot of work and sacrifice, yet comes naturally when one does what one feels is right, albeit not easy. I liked that as we got to know what he was capable of, so did he. His strengths felt realistic to who he was, and I liked that although people expected little of a Hobbit, Bilbo shows them just what he's made of. Bilbo gets frightened, and who can blame him? But he shows a cool head, and puts his thinking cap on, and always works through his fear. He's the kind of character that challenges the stereotype of what a hero is made of, and in a very good way. I found myself feeling very affectionate towards the guy and hoping that things worked out for him. I especially liked that although Gandalf is their companion part of the way, and a powerful wizard, he's not a deus ex machina figure in this book. His powers and sage knowledge do help, but his companions, particularly little Bilbo, mainly have to use their own strengths to extricate themselves from some nasty situations.
Although this tends to be a light-hearted book, there are some scary moments, and foes that I certainly wouldn't want to face. Poor Bilbo and his companions continually get out of one bad scrape, only to end up in a worse one. Lives are at risk, and heroes have to make their stands. But good wins out in the end, and that's what I want to see in a Goodread.
I can certainly see why The Hobbit is considered a classic. This is a rich story that can be taken on several levels. It's not only fun to read, but it has some good messages. I also found the writing to be high quality and showcasing that its author had the benefits of a classical education in folklore, myth, and legend. He combined all that to make a very delightful story that I had the pleasure to read for the first time (although not the last, I'm sure). If you have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies but haven't read the books, I highly recommend reading Tolkien. And The Hobbit is the best place to start.
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