Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I have been following Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson on Facebook for the past year. Using some of the same sets and locations, he is currently filming The Hobbit in New Zealand and occasionally posts photos and videos showing how the project is progressing. The videos are particularly fun as Jackson is witty and charming as a guide to cinematic Middle Earth. I also like being introduced to the actors and seeing how the makeup and costumes are created. I don't think it will lessen the magic of the film to have seen these little documentaries. I have already read the book several times.

A couple of weeks ago, I actually ran out of library books, so I decided it was time to revisit The Hobbit, which we have on a prominent shelf in the living room. The story held few surprises, of course, for I knew it too well, but I did notice some things about the writing. The first is that it really is much easier to read than the Lord of the Rings books. There is much less description and fewer references to the history of Middle Earth. Second, some of the scenes that I remembered as long were not. After finding the ring in the caves under the Misty Mountains, Bilbo gets away from Gollum in only a few pages. The hike along the elf trail through Mirkwood may be unending for the dwarves and Bilbo, but the reader is led through pretty quickly. Even Smaug's attack on the lake town of Esgaroth and battle of the five armies are briefly told - especially when compared to similar events in the trilogy.

I also noticed how Tolkien introduced a very modern ethical dilemma after Smaug was slain by Bard. What would have been a fair distribution of the treasure that had long been kept in the Lonely Mountain by the dragon? The dwarves could claim the mountain but the dragon had stolen from many, including people and elves. Could previous owners of the pieces have been identified? Could the losses of the victimized be tabulated? It seems that only Bilbo and Bard could clearly see that there was plenty of gold for everyone. What really mattered more was the repairing of buildings and gathering of food before winter. But sharing seemed so difficult to do when everyone wanted their part. Only the rise of the common enemy from the North brought the disputing sides together. This sounds a lot like contemporary problems.

Aimed at younger reader, The Hobbit is truly a great book for any age. I enjoyed my return to Middle Earth immensely and now await the late 2012 release of The Hobbit, Part One. I know it will be spectacular.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1937.


Anonymous said...

I am not sure every reader would agree that there is a modern link to the distribution of the Treasure in the Hobbit;to the manifestations of modern culture. I can only assume you may be indicating that the treasure dispute equates to the purported income inequality (OWS and all that noise). It seems likely to me that one's view of politics and economics would determine if that link is made.

ricklibrarian said...

Modern is probably not a good word as there have always such problems, and Tolkien certainly did not dwell on the situation. But I think he illustrate a universal issue.

Robert said...

Well, sir. This review covers one of the most important books in my early fantasy journey. Although I have almost always been a fan of hard science fiction (Asimov, Heinlein, Campbell, and others), I have also had a deep love of the fantasy worlds created by the imagination of writers like Tolkien. I started with The Hobbit at the Reagan County Library as the book was one of very few fantasy titles there (no Lord of the Rings BTW).

I introduced this story to my children as soon as they could read at the 3rd or 4th grade levels and they still appreciate the tome today.

Thanks for bringing it back and re-invigorating my memory.

ricklibrarian said...

Glad you liked it, Robert. I hope they have Lord of the Rings at RCHS by now.