Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Hobbit: A Review

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit is a classic enjoyed by children and adults.  Since it was published in 1937, The Hobbit has not been out of print, with each generation finding joy in its tale of wizards and dwarves and goblins and war.  In the tale of a simple being who finds himself in the middle of great adventures, The Hobbit is a story that has elements that are both from our world and from a fantasy one.  

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, a small creature who likes nothing more than the creature comforts of a quiet life: good food, good drink, and a good smoke.  Hobbits are very social among themselves, but are a generally quiet community who rarely if ever venture outside their homeland, which they call The Shire.   One day, the wizard Gandalf comes to Bilbo's home, Bag End, and invites him on an adventure.  Bilbo, as a hobbit, doesn't see any need to go on adventures, but despite this he finds that his comfortable hobbit hole is invaded by a group of dwarves. 

The dwarves want to reclaim their lost kingdom inside the Lonely Mountain, where their ancestor's treasure is being held by the dragon Smaug.  Gandalf and the dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, decide that Bilbo would make the perfect burglar to aid them on their quest.  Bilbo doesn't think he as a respectable hobbit is the right one for the job, but he finds himself going with them anyway.

Bilbo and the dwarves, sometimes with Gandalf, sometimes not, have a series of adventures just getting to the Lonely Mountain.  The most important for Bilbo is when he has an encounter with Gollum, a mysterious creature who challenges him to a riddle contest.  Bilbo manages to win, and in the process finds a mysterious ring that allows him to become invisible.  While Gollum tries to find him and accidentally shows him the way out, Bilbo keeps the ring.

They finally get to the Lonely Mountain, and its Bilbo who faces Smaug.  Bilbo and Smaug have a conversation, and Bilbo later takes both a golden cup and the Arkenstone, a fabulous jewel from Smaug's lair.  Furious, Smaug goes after Bilbo and the dwarves, but he is killed by Bard the Bowman, a man from the village Smaug is destroying going after them.

The dwarves and men, joined by elves, soon start arguing over the treasure, and are close to war when Gandalf reappears.  He tells them that a large army of goblins andWwargs (wolf-like creatures)is coming.  The three groups put their differences aside to fight at the climatic Battle of the Five Armies.  With the dwarf/men/elves victorious, Bilbo takes only a small part of the treasure offered and finally goes home, where he returns a wealthy hobbit and who takes his ring out only to escape unpleasant company.

The Hobbit works because it has things in it that are both familiar and fantasical.  It has all the elements of a fantasy story: you have elves and dwarves and dragons and a quest.  However, it also has something new: the title character himself.  A hobbit has similarities to a person: he enjoys his meals (things like afternoon tea) and even smokes pipes, but in other ways are distinct.  They have rather hairy feet and are very small in height.

The Hobbit is a book that can be read at face value: a series of adventures where the little hero ends up saving the day, or it can be read as something deeper.  It could be a story about stepping out of your comfort zone and see the world outside your own can be dangerous but also rewarding.  Uniting different groups against a common enemy is something also relevant in our time, like when the United States and Great Britain joined with the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany.  The importance of even the smallest being is also something that The Hobbit makes clear.  It's not the warrior dwarves or wizards who are the most important characters or who do the most to get them out of trouble.  Instead, it's a little insecure hobbit from The Shire.

The Hobbit is a short book full of adventures and narrow escapes that, despite the dangers, has a happy ending: Bilbo returns to his comfortable home, a little wiser and a lot wealthier.  It's a book that adults and children will enjoy equally.

The Hobbit, as well as other books by J.R.R. Tolkien such as The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, are available at the El Paso Public Library.

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