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

‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’

Having chosen to reread this novel in light of the arrival of Peter Jackson’s final installment of the trilogy, I once again found myself absorbed into Tolkien universe.

What The Hobbit does so effectively is that it presents a story so simplistic that the elegance of the writing is laid bare to see. Before exploring the world of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, Tolkien uses the novel to test his ideas of what he had begun to create, outlined perfectly through his creative setting, character and narrative. Whilst for many critics of the trilogy the main fault lies in Tolkien’s density of plot and character arcs, The Hobbit has no such flaw. Yes, there are overtones of good vs. evil, but the novel stands alone as a much lighter explorative read.  Moreover for fans of the series, the subtle nods to the later works are delightful to find, from the origin of Sting to the finding of the One Ring.

Readers can either drift easily, touching lightly on the environment or absorb themselves in the richness of it all.

One manner in which Tolkien excels, undoubtedly, is within his sheer creativity of place. When reading the book, I felt echoes of child fantasy lands such as Baum’s Wonderland, in that the world is so unpredictable whilst retaining an element of the familiar. Readers can either drift easily, touching lightly on the environment or absorb themselves in the richness presented in the minute detail which Tolkien subtlety implements. Middle Earth ranges from idyllic Hobbiton to the dark, rather chilling Mirkwood to the cold, desolate Laketown in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. Each setting is constructed intuitively and although the company move through some areas swiftly, the reader still has sufficient time to feel the essence of the world ooze from the description.

When looking at character, it can at times appear stretched with the company alone boasting 13 dwarves, a hobbit and a wizard. This is then combined with introduction of key roles such as Gollum, Bard and Smaug, to name but a few. However whilst certain dwarves are somewhat sidelined to mere name dropping, each has enough rounding to feel recognisable. Yet for key roles the characters are much more fleshed out. For Bilbo specifically, Tolkien creates an extremely likable person due to the relatability, meaning the novel is much easier to read, mapping onto Bilbo’s want for home, a warm fire and a peaceful weekend.

It is wonderfully imaginative, with a delightful story arc.

Conversely Thorin and Gandalf are both presented as authoritative counterparts, a dynamic which, when presented alongside Bilbo, further develops the friendship which, rather believably, binds the company. Watching Bilbo develop as his role embodies greater purpose is one of great pleasure, solidified with the tension built on his solo encounters with the riddling Gollum and cunning, brilliance of the fearful Smaug. Undoubtedly the characterisation in The Hobbit is less dense than what you will have likely read in recent fiction, but as such the approach feels refreshing. The reader is allowed to construct their own frame of character, which they then build upon as events progress.

The Hobbit is a fantastic novel. Many people see this universe as something which has been encapsulated by the films, however they represent merely a fraction of the imaginative delight which can be gained from reading it. Also, The Hobbit is surprisingly light making it a read which can be so easily accessed and enjoyed. It is wonderfully imaginative, has a delightful story arc and begins to explore a beautiful fraction of the epic landscape that Tolkien went on to craft later in his life.

James Hamilton


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