There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”
There are a number of books I wish I had read earlier in life and “The Hobbit” is one such book. Like a lot of people, I was introduced to Tolkien’s world by Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and have since tried to read the books that started it all. So far, I have finished “The Fellowship of the Ring,” about a third of “The Two Towers,” and fifty pages of “The Silmarillion.” And though I respect Tolkien for the excellent display of creativity and imagination, as well as his word-wieldy ways, in these books, it is in “The Hobbit” that I saw the care he gave his characters and how dear stories and adventures are to his heart.
¹ An introduction to hobbits can be found in the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, which endeared me to them quite unexpectedly.
“The Hobbit” follows one Bilbo Baggins, a respectable hobbit who lives in a nice little hobbit-hole under-hill in the West. As everyone knows, hobbits, including Bilbo, are a peaceful folk¹, who like being left alone with their ale, food, and pipe-weed. One afternoon, Bilbo’s peace and quiet were disturbed by the wise wizard, Gandalf, and a gang of dwarves recruiting him for a treasure hunt.
With the job description of a “burglar,” Bilbo encounters mountain trolls, goblins, a slimy creature called Gollum, a terrifying but extraordinary creature named Beorn, a perfectly forest, as well as a lot of other wonders and misfortunes.
“The Hobbit” is arguably a children’s book, and the writing style is frankly more accessible and easy to read than my other ventures into Tolkien. I think it was written with that intention—to craft an exciting tale instead of just an account of events—and this makes me love it all the more. A friend and Tolkien-fan, Ching, said that this was the Tolkien work that had the most heart, and although quite new to everything, I would have to agree.
² A chapter I particularly enjoyed was the fifth called, “Riddles in the Dark,” which was full of suspense and was evidence of Tolkien’s excellence as a wordsmith.
It was an absolute page-turner² and a dream to read. Bilbo and his band of dwarves (Thorin Oakenshield, Balin, Dwalin, Bofur, Gloin, Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Bifur, and Bombur) went out one mishap into another and each time they emerged to be a little wiser and stronger and braver. It was clearly Bilbo’s story though, and it was such a joy to see him change and evolve into someone not quite so “hobbit-y”—for hobbits are generally predictable—but someone a million times better.
The thing of it is, is that “The Hobbit” is a tale for bravery, even in the face of dark times, even if you are so very small that people forget to respect you. Throughout this adventure, Bilbo is constantly underestimated, because of his size, until, of course he learned how to prove everybody—including himself—wrong.
“‘Well done! Mr. Baggins!’ he said, clapping Bilbo on the back. ‘There is always more about you than anyone expects!’ It was Gandalf.”
“The Elvenking looked at Bilbo with a new wonder. ‘Bilbo Baggins!’ he said. ‘You are more worthy to wear the armour of elf-princes than many that have looked more comely in it.’”
And I felt my heart swell every time the big folk look at the hobbit with a twinkle in their eyes and a surprise coating their tongue, because they see Bilbo for what he truly is: a brave soul that endured so much, despite his lack of inclination for adventurous things, and despite being so small. A favorite passage: “Gandalf looked at him. ‘My dear Bilbo!’ he said. ‘Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.’”
And when it all wound down to an ending, I found myself crying because the adventure had to end, and I had to leave Bilbo and all the others. It was a weird experience for me, as I had not felt so moved by a book, at least close to tears, in such a long time.
It was certainly a long and tiring journey, but one that I would take again, if I had somebody like Bilbo Baggins to take it with.
Passages I would like to remember:
- “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something (or so Thorin said to the young dwarves). You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”
- “Then the hobbit slipped on his ring, and warned by the echoes to take more than hobbit’s care to make no sound, he crept noiselessly down, down, down into the dark. He was trembling with fear, but his little face was set and grim. Already he was a very different hobbit from the one that had run out without a pocket-handkerchief from Bag-End long ago.”
- “It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”
- “‘Never laught at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!’” he said to himself, and it became a favorite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb. “You aren’t nearly through this adventure yet.”
I read this book on my new Kindle, which I will review one of these days. Some of the passages, I have saved on it and decided against posting. I love it, too, because it can display images such as these runes, and this rather beautiful illustration of Bilbo’s encounter with the trolls.