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.
J 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).