Note: Tolkien chooses to use the plural of dwarf as dwarves, where as during this review I will be using the normal dwarfs.
‘Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool.’
J.R.R. Tolkien is possibly best known for writing The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which has become a massively popular film franchise. Tolkien had a long, distinguished academic career with his works having sold millions of copies worldwide and having been translated into more than 24 languages.
The Hobbit is a book that I have been meaning to read for quite a long time. It is one of those classic stories and I knew that it would be an easier read than The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is a very popular set of books and films. I felt that The Hobbit offers an introduction to that trilogy, and as it is only one book, it felt like a good way to decide whether I would like to go on to read the trilogy. I actually borrowed the book from my sister a few years ago, and the book has been sat on my shelf ever since, so I decided it was time to finally read it and return it to my sister’s shelf.
In this copy of The Hobbit there are two maps. There is ‘Thror’s Map’, which is the map Bilbo and the dwarfs use during the story, and there is also a map of ‘Wilderland’ which is a map of the area where the story takes place. It is the second map which is the most useful to the reader because it is really good to follow the journey of Bilbo and the dwarfs. Overall, Tolkien has created a whole new land, full of mountains, woods and danger at every turn it seems. As I read, the setting really came to life, especially with the information we are given as the group reach each new place.
The Hobbit, no surprises, centres around a Hobbit whose name is Bilbo Baggins. He lives happily in his cosy home and is in no hurry to go on any adventures. Until Gandalf, a great wizard, comes knocking on his door. Gandalf is in search of a burglar to make up the fourteenth number in the dwarf’s party. The dwarfs are in need of a burglar because a dragon named Smaug burned their village to the ground and stole all of their treasures, and dwarfs like their treasure. So, Bilbo joins their party and the majority of the novel focuses on the party’s journey to the Lonely Mountain where Smaug guards the treasure. On their way, they come across a host of danger, some friends of Gandalf and many creatures. Yet all the time, the dragon awaits.
The story is narrated in the third person which allows Tolkien to provide a lot of description. He gives us detail on the locations, and back stories into many of the characters which is really helpful, especially if, like me, you know very little about this whole world beforehand. What I really liked about Tolkien’s style was that he speaks to the reader every now and again. This involves the reader more as it feels like Tolkien is personally telling you the story and wants you to have some input. He also gives little teasing sentences from time to time that hint about what may be about to happen which pique your interest at that moment and made me want to continue reading to see what was going to happen.
In all honesty, as I thought about characters in this novel, there were not any that really grabbed me and that I would think of when thinking about my favourite literary characters. Usually, the main character is the one that you like the most, but in the case of Bilbo I found that he could complain a fair amount and considering the adventure he was on, he was not naturally particularly adventurous which probably held him back. However, he was relatable in the sense that he often wished to be at home, and I know that I am someone who really likes being at home, and the journey he is on is dangerous and scary so I can see why he feels that way. Also, Bilbo does learn a lot on his journey. I think he learns a lot about himself and what he can be capable of, as well as meeting a whole host of new people, seeing new things, and having a once in a lifetime adventure.
Gandalf is a character that I actually had mixed feelings about. I knew before reading the book that he is a powerful wizard and is someone the other characters would look up to, but I felt that in many situations it was up to him to save all of the others and I would have liked them to rely on him less. However, whilst I felt that for quite a while, later on in the book, the other characters, especially Bilbo, do start to step up, which was great to see. So perhaps, Gandalf was really teaching them and giving them a start and a confidence in themselves, which they were then able to use.
When it comes to the dwarfs, I had expected them to be really brave and not need so much help on their journey. It is nearer the end that the dwarfs were more like I had hoped them to be, but by that point I was a little disappointed that they so often needed saving by Gandalf or Bilbo. But I think that I was disappointed largely because my expectations were wrong, it was just a different dynamic amongst the characters than I had anticipated. Once I got used to all the characters and how they were, I did enjoy reading about their scrapes and how they managed to get out of them again. Additionally, at the beginning I felt like the dwarfs would all blur into one and I would always get them mixed up, but as I read I actually got to know each one of them individually and I really liked exploring each of their characters.
Strangely, the character that I possibly liked the most was hardly in it. This character is Bard. As he comes in near the end, I do not want to say too much about what he does in the story because he does play a pretty important role. I liked him because when the dwarfs were overwhelmed by greed for their gold (something I did not understand) Bard was very sensible and rational. He is the kind of character who is strong, brave and you can quickly tell would make a good leader.
Along the way, we learn about many different characters. There is the backstory of battles that happened in the past, and what different creatures are like. We meet Gandalf’s friends, Elrond and Beorn, goblins, spiders and wood-elves. All of these characters come together to create a new world and a whole history to go with it. It really did feel like I was escaping to a different world as I read, a world full of different creatures and unimaginable adventure.
What I really liked about the novel was that at the end we follow the characters on their return journey. This felt like reminiscing about all of the adventures they had had along the way and made me feel included in it all because I could almost join in and think ‘oh, yes, I remember when…’. I think that this was a really great idea by Tolkien as it made me feel like I had been on an adventure too, which I guess I had.
The end of the novel was really good. I was left happy with what had happened and what feels like memories of an adventure in a distant land. Overall, although this book was not quite what I expected, perhaps because of the hype surrounding the franchise, I did really enjoy it and would recommend that people try it to see what they think too.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, first published in Great Britain by George Allen & Unwin in 1937, this edition published by Harper Collins in 1995, RRP £7.99, ISBN 0-00-763770-5