Book Review: The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien

I haven’t read this book for many years, because I didn’t like it.  I read it after Lord of the Rings, which I loved, and still read often.  I had it in my head that I didn’t like Bilbo, thinking him pompous and silly.  I realise now I have been enormously unfair, and I apologise to you, Mr Baggins, and trust you will find it in your good-hearted nature to forgive me.

The HobbitJ R R Tolkien says this is a children’s book, and so it is. A great deal of it is written in the same style as Lord of the Rings, with sweeping narrative and marvellously evocative description.  Then it suddenly turns into somewhat patronising, to my mind, first person insertions by the narrator, sometimes suggesting what will happen later, and at others telling you, dear reader, what is happening or about to happen, such as “as you will see”.  I think this is what put me off the book so whole-heartedly when I was in my teens.

It is entirely possible that this narrative structure makes it easy to read to children.  I don’t remember being read to, although I’m sure I was.  Professor Tolkien read it to his children (or maybe he told it, then wrote it).  I’d like to know whether it is read aloud by today’s parents (or elder siblings, or anyone else) to young children. Some of the sentences are very long-winded.  My personal view is that it’s a read-to-oneself book, but I’m happy to be told otherwise.

I suppose I really should give it a summary in case you don’t know about it.  Hobbits are small creatures like people with furry feet that live in a sheltered rural area in the middle of Middle-Earth, where they hear tales of, but rarely encounter, the outside world, which is full of wizards, elves, dwarves, goblins, dragons and other races (including Men).  A wizard, Gandalf, recommends that a set of dwarves take Bilbo Baggins, an otherwise unremarkable hobbit save for the possibility of a bit of ‘wildness’ in his ancestry, on their venture to retake the Lonely Mountain, where a dragon is sitting on a pile of what the dwarves consider to be ‘their’ gold.  Lots of mountains, rivers, forests and scary things between hobbitland (the Shire, though I don’t think the author mentions it by name in The Hobbit) and the Lonely Mountain.

Did I enjoy it on this second or possibly third reading?  Yes, more than I expected, but I did find the final part after they establish themselves at the Lonely Mountain to be somewhat dull.  Most of the action does not happen to Bilbo and is done in flashback when we hear what he missed.  It’s like a vast epic has been condensed into a short afterthought since it’s the only place the story can be fitted into the Middle-Earth timeline.  But the few things that Bilbo does at that stage show, as do his earlier adventures, what a warm-hearted, ingenious, morally sound person he is.

I take my hat off to you, Mr Baggins.  But I don’t like the Professor’s style in this book.  I’ll stick to other tales of Middle-Earth.

The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien, read as part of the Classic Children’s Book Reading Challenge (and the Kid Lit Blog Hop).

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20 thoughts on “Book Review: The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien

  1. I agree with you, Jemima, but I read The Hobbit before the Lord of the Rings, so the comparison wasn’t there from the outset. I do prefer LOTR, having read that trilogy many times. I find it rather ironic that LOTR was made into three movies, following the three books, but The Hobbit, one book, is being made into three movies. Greed abounds.

  2. Interesting take. I haven’t read The Hobbit, in some time, but do remember finding it a bit more boring as an adult than I did as a youngster. I am going to have to read it again to see what I think. Thanks for the great review.

    Paul R. Hewlett

    • Thanks, Paul. I find it interesting how one views things differently over time… and now with an author’s eye, too.

  3. My father read The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings, to me growing up, and my mother read the Hobbit to my son. We’ve all loved them very much… but I think that how we tell stories to children has changed enormously over the years. That very intrusive narrator that you get in Tolkien and Lewis and MacDonald (if I recall correctly) must have been considred essential, and it just doesn’t work so well anymore.

  4. thanks for summarizing the book, I was never into The Hobbit or LOTR, but perhaps my son one day will be in to those genre of books. I like knowing about different possibilities for him, though I can’t imagine him EVER not reading about Dinosaurs, LOL

  5. The Hobbit was never my favorite, but I did love LOTR when I read them. I read it myself in junior high school but didn’t get on the LOTR until college.
    Thanks for sharing your very interesting thoughts on The Hobbit with us.

  6. Glad you gave The Hobbit a second chance. Love all of Tolkien’s works. Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Hopping on, Cheryl, Hop Hostess

  7. I actually haven’t read the Hobbit. I’m not sure how this has happened, but I’m definitely going to have to right this wrong. Thanks for the wake up pinch.

  8. I also enjoyed the Lord of the Rings much, much more than The Hobbit, but I haven’t read the latter in some time now. I was shocked to hear that the Hobbit was going to be made into 3 movies. I thought that there wouldn’t be enough story for that (and I still think I’m right about that!) The first movie just dragged on and on and on… Anyways, really great review – I totally agree! Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop! 🙂

  9. I find that as I explore more of Tolkien’s works the more I appreciate The Hobbit. Tolkien had an entire mythology in his mind which later resulted in the LOTR. Most may not know he presented the Silmarillion as the follow up to The Hobbit and was rejected by the publisher.

    As far as the film being made into a trilogy, I do think most will be surprised to see how it ties into Tolkien’s overall works. The Return of the King, Appendix A-III “Durin’s Folk” provides insight into the filmmakers desire to expand to three stories.

    As I begin book five of my nineteen story mythology, I hope I am as marginally successful as he was.

    • Yes, I suspect I appreciated more how the whole thing fitted together. Like the answer to where had Gandalf been. I found some of the interactions with Balin poignant, given the Mines of Moria.

  10. Pingback: Reading Challenge Update | Jemima Pett

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