Published in September 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” would probably have to rank as one of the best of all fantasy novels. Probably. I don’t often read the fantasy genre (perhaps I should explore more) so I cannot be a definitive judge. I just felt that way after reading the book. Released in a perilous time in history, the world in the coming years after 1937 would certainly need an escape.
The world that Tolkien creates here is intoxicating. Even beyond his middle-earth are the compelling characters which take us along on an unforgettable adventure.
Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit” before his worldwide famous “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and how this book differs is significant. “The Hobbit” is a very straightforward journey and adventure story. It does not have the over-arching good and evil themes that would be explored in LOTR. There are, of course, evil groups of characters but the focus is on the dwarves travelling to lonely mountain to take on the dragon Smaug to reclaim their lost dynasty and heritage.
Bilbo the hobbit likes the quiet life in the shire and his complacency in life is challenged by Gandalf and the dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield. Before this epic journey, Gandalf the wizard tricks a lowly hobbit into hosting a dinner party for a group of dwarves. Here, he gets roped into the adventure where they encounter goblins, trolls, boulder throwing giants, heroic eagles and the infamous character of Gollum. At the climax toward the end, Smaug the dragon is unleashed.
Comparing the book to the movie is…well…there is no comparison. “The Hobbit” could have certainly been done in 2 movies but Hollywood, in love with the trilogy, has stretched to 3. The movie, which was entertaining in my opinion, detours from the book by trying to truly act as a prequel. Director Peter Jackson seemingly doesn’t miss an opportunity to link up events in “The Hobbit” with the later LOTR trilogy. Some of these links (such as the original framing device in the beginning of the film with Bilbo looking back) are not bothersome. However, the feel of the book is not like the movie because linking to the later LOTR trilogy reestablishes the epic clash between good and evil that “The Hobbit” down plays.
As in the book, the cinematic meeting between Bilbo and Gollum is thrilling. This was the best part of the movie and in the book is filled with a certain amount of tension as well.
Tolkien has always insisted that “The Hobbit” is not an allegory or a metaphor of faith as his contemporary friend, CS Lewis, provided with “The Chronicles of Narnia”. One cannot help but see the potential faith influences in the story such as the dwarves away from their promised land (lonely mountain) and striving to go back. This may bring the Old Testament struggle of the Israelites to mind and God’s promise to them of letting them see their land again. Also, the character of the hobbit, as small and lowly as he is, plays a crucial role in helping the dwarves reclaim their heritage. By the world’s standards, certainly not a significant character. On the journey, he is filled with doubt multiple times about the tasks that are before him. His perservance and heart are strong though. He keeps pressing on.
For someone like me who needs to read more fiction, “The Hobbit” makes me crave it. One cannot go wrong with picking up a copy of “The Hobbit” and getting lost in Tolkien’s imagination.