Book Review: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Hobbit” is a classic book for good reason. It was originally marketed for children and it often still is, but this novel is great for any age. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” is a sequel to “The Hobbit” and is more epic. It too was marketed to children originally, but because of the size and complexity of that trilogy it is now often marketed to adults. Even so, I actually love “The Hobbit” even more than “The Lord of the Ring.”

“The Hobbit” is a basic there-and-back-again story structure following the very sensible Bilbo Baggins. The wizard, Gandalf, shows up at Bilbo’s house and tricks him into an adventure with 13 dwarves. They fall into many troubles in which Bilbo plays a key role in delivering them. He also finds a magic invisibility ring to aid him. They come to their destination, the Lonely Mountain, face the dragon Smaug, and even end up in a massive war. Finally, Bilbo returns home a rich and changed Hobbit.

In summary, the story can sound like a generic fairytale or myth, but the characters are extremely complex with warring motivations. The observations that Tolkien has tucked into the novel about life, adventures, and our role in world events are timeless truths gained by a man who had lived his own share of adventures.

Tolkien’s writings are the foundation of much of today’s fantasy fiction. Unlike today’s fantasy, though, Bilbo is not some kind of chosen messiah figure. Bilbo is just a common lowly Hobbit and he stays a common lowly Hobbit. His role in world events may be a significant influence, but world events do not revolve around him. The vast majority of fantasy fiction after Tolkien has been narcissistic and self-centered. Even when the character or main characters are doing their adventure for the greater good of the world, they are the center of world events. They are the only ones who can do the quest.

This sort of inflated self-centeredness is not true to life. Even though “The Hobbit” has mythical creatures and magical solutions, the development of each of the characters within the story is very true to our human existence. No matter how famous, powerful, or skilled you are, you are never the only hope for the world. Each one of us has a role in our own adventures with consequences that effect other people, but we are just one actor in world events.

Another aspect of “The Hobbit” that I love is how trials and adventures being out unexpected facets of each of the characters’s personalities. Bilbo becomes braver while still maintaining his sensible core nature. Thorin becomes more greedy while still maintaining focus on his legacy. Even supporting characters such as the master of Laketown demonstrated his cowardly nature after a competent beginning. While Bard saves the day though he seems like a grim pessimist. Each character is unique and fascinating.

The setting of “The Hobbit” is very relatable for those who have been around the UK and Europe. Some places like Elrond’s house are magical. Even Mirkwood’s is magically sinister, but nowhere is so fantastic to be unfamiliar. I think this is part of what makes the tale vivid in our imagination.

Another thing that I love about “The Hobbit” is just the writing style. It is a book that handles close dissection extremely well. The narrator is witty and the choice of phrasing is brilliant. It is not a writing style that is used today. The pace is slower and the action less exaggerated. The one big battle scene takes less than a chapter while the introduction of Bilbo to his adventure takes multiple chapters. It is worth studying in depth.

I highly recommend “The Hobbit” as a read-aloud for the youngest children and as a good novel for anyone old enough to read novels of that length. The story is clean, timeless, and rich in every literary respect. It is a novel you can read over and over again and enjoy every time. I am amazed at how new aspects of each character and life truths pop out at me after each reading.