Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.
The following is a bunch of random and unrefined thoughts about The Hobbit, with spoilers tossed in.
The Hobbit is a great book to read during winter. You can snuggle under blankets and let yourself be carried away to Middle-earth by Tolkien’s warm narrator. It’s easy to imagine Tolkien sitting in front of you and reading the story directly to you. The tone is familial and knowing. There are lots of little side comments where the narrator takes a moment to make a comment to the reader, or address plot points with the benefit of hindsight. The style of narration in The Hobbit provides a fairy tale like reading experience that is a joy to partake in.
I love that it is the homely hobbit, turned gentleman burglar, who takes the spotlight. The story doesn’t belong to the dwarf king-to-be reclaiming his kingdom, or the wizard fighting a necromancer behind the scenes, or the descendant of a lost city-state who slays a dragon, or even the elven king.
Bilbo’s position as a burglar with no emotional investment in the task at hand (he’s only got a material investment) makes him an interesting choice of protagonist. There are all sorts of large scale events happening around Bilbo. He does play a key part but if this story hadn’t have been about him it would be difficult to see him through the heroes and magic. He is, after all, a mostly invisible component in the events that occur, in a rather literal sense. He even manages to miss a good chunk of the battle that decides everyone’s fate. He is both within and without the story being told which makes him the most interesting character to follow.
Aside from his interesting position in the narrative, Bilbo’s contribution to events, unseen or not, definitely earns him central status. Still, sometimes Bilbo allows his part to be underplayed. He doesn’t too much mind people not recognising that it was him who cleverly made Smaug reveal his weak spot. Yet if it hadn’t have been for Bilbo, Bard would not have known where to shoot Smaug. If it hadn’t have been for Bilbo the dwarves would have most likely died in Mirkwood without ever laying eyes on their homeland again, let alone reclaim it. He’s important in a less flamboyant and in your face way as the other characters.
I love that when Bilbo goes home he chronicles his adventure because it indicates that he sees himself as being worthy of owning the story and it doesn’t matter that he was just a hobbit from Bag End who just happened to be picked by Gandalf for an adventure, and that he was never picked to be a hero. He was allocated the role of burglar. But he took the role on and made himself a heroic burglar.
I guess, for me, it was nice to read a story with a hero who is different from the stereotypically centre-of-attention king-to-be kind of hero you can find in so many fantasy novels.
Bilbo’s actions have a less than typical pay-off. His efforts are appreciated but there is no huge reward for Bilbo in the material sense. There’s no grand kingdom in it for him. Even the amount of treasure promised to him at the start of the adventure does not fully materialise at the end. Bilbo’s biggest payment is being able to go home and appreciate it all the more after being able to see more of the world surrounding it.
Tolkien creates a story with symmetry where Bilbo starts and ends at home. At the end he is a changed and wealthy man with a questionable reputation. And he is happy.
The mountain was not Bilbo’s to reclaim, the dragon was not Bilbo’s to slay and the battle was not Bilbo’s to fight but the story that brings all of these things together and the part he played in it still makes it his story to own.
I enjoyed reading The Hobbit 😀