A Strange And Wonderful Book

Posted: January 16, 2013 in Inkspots
Tags: , ,


Tomorrow, my brother and I are finally going to go see The Hobbit. Yes, we might be the only two people on earth not to have seen it, but I wanted to see it with him and juggling schedules has been a challenge, to stay the least.  But then, as Bilbo learns, nothing worth while doing is ever easy.  To prepare for this treat, I thought it would be a good idea to reread The Hobbit.

I read it when I was in my early teens, someone gave me a copy because I loved fantasy and they thought I should start off with the “best that there was”.

I really did enjoy it. I remember that. But I haven’t read it since, though I did read its younger brothers;The Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, and The Return of the King more recently.

The things that struck me (as I was reading on break at work tonight and trying NOT to get salad dressing on the pages of my copy) were that 1.) I was delighted that I had to buy my copy to read before seeing the movie (my library has copies but the wait for one is now at  three months) due to the demand for the book,  2.) it’s funny that a book written in 1937 still resonates with readers and 3.) this story really isn’t for kids.

On the surface, it’s a coming of age story about a little insignificant man who is tricked into an adventure and finds out that he’s more courageous, more daring, and more fierce than even he knows.

Scratch  the veneer of that away, and  a complex wheels-within-wheels story of archetypes and ideas comes into view, working like clock work with several ghosts in the machine. Middle Earth is a  moral world with absolute rights and wrongs. Decision made that are nearly right, or mostly right, lead to nearly or mostly dead characters. Tolkien’s world stands on a sharp pivot point and one protagonist leaning too far into the darkness, even for the right reasons, throws the whole thing into topsy-turvy turmoil.  But then a man might lean the other way, and pull with himself, his companions out of the chaos of a fallen realm. There are so many amazing lessons, most of which Bilbo learns by doing the wrong thing. He fails his very first test with the trolls. But thinking back to that moment, later, Bilbo doesn’t fail. He makes the painful, costly, right decision and suffers for it as he didn’t suffer at the hands of the trolls.

In this wonderful clockwork land where a villain might have been a prince at one time, and a prince might have been a villain, there are seconds of redemption and minutes of hope among its dark hour-long stretches of evil. And that’s exactly why it’s endured for over 75 years.

We readers still want to see the hope and redemption of our world and our neighbors in the dark hours we face. I take solace in the fact that if an ordinary little fellow like Bilbo might grow into an elf-friend and adventurer, then I might one day to grow beyond my safe shell and when my world needs me the most, do the right and costly thing to take my place beside the heroes of my age.

What about The Hobbit intrigues you? Or infuriates you?  It’s not a book for everyone, I know that. Don’t compare it to the movie, just tell me what you like or don’t about the book itself.

  1. Megan-Marie says:

    I haven’t seen it and refuse to see it ’cause I got mad 😉 Mom is annoyed by my refusal to see it, but has not seen it either. So there’s a few left. What’s sad about it is I was more interested in a Hobbit movie 10 years ago than I was LOTR and to this day, like Mom, prefer Hobbit to the trilogy. I’m not a fan of grim; when the protagonist has to end miserably because there’s no way around it, I call it grim. (And I always thought the Gray Havens sounded like bleak exile. Was I not supposed to draw that conclusion? O:)) But I just can’t get over my outrage that 300 pages = 3 movies and 1500 pages = 3 movies. I literally just spat a nail . . .

    Anyway, I knew early on the Hobbit wasn’t for kids! I was a very small child-person when I saw part of the cartoon on TV at Grandma’s and it scared me for years; in fact, I didn’t even know it was the Hobbit that had scared me that much until Mom gave me the cartoon the same Christmas she gave me the books and I watched it and went, “THIS IS THAT MOVIE! THIS IS THAT TERRIFYING MOVIE!” 😉 But like Alice in Wonderland — unpalatable to a kid, but very good for a grown up. At least the sort of kid I was. Tolkein and his friends were good writers because they understood the necessity of absolutes. People want gray areas because they want even their mistakes to be okay. I miss absolutes in fiction. One of my perennial criticisms of Harry Potter is that it’s an a cloudy universe where there are no moral absolutes, no right and wrong. A friend of mine complained, in its defense, that isn’t that like life? Which is why the cheap modern crap is so dangerous. There ARE absolutes, and if our literature doesn’t reflect that, how will we ever work through it ourselves?

    • There’s a wonderful line Aragorn has, and I don’t remember where, but he asks for time to think, that he might make the right decision. And someone after some time, says perhaps there isn’t a right one, only variations of wrong. He’s outraged at the idea and comes back with a reply along the lines of ‘the right decision is usually the one that costs the man the most’

      There’s a very touching point in the movie (I won’t say where) when you physically see Bilbo step into the role of the hero (the one who is dead) and do that which costs him the most. Later on, when he’s being admired, he claims he’s no hero and Gandalf looks at him with such gentle affection that you are left with the impression Bilbo is a hero—because he does not think his actions heroic, only right.

      As to three movies, *ugh* I have no idea how they are going to do it. I can tell you that the movie ENDS at the end of Chapter 5 in the book. Maybe he’ll do 5 chapters in each movie? I can tell you that they’re filling in with events from the lore of Middle Earth culled from the Appendices in The Return of the King and some things from the Simarillion.

      I really did love the wargs, they were exactly as I pictured them.

  2. Jake says:

    Five of the Bullers have yet to see the Hobbit, so you aren’t alone. ^_^ I need to reread the Hobbit, but I think I’ll wait till I’m about to see the movie. (Whenever THAT is!) Then I can see all of the stuff they quoted directly from the book, like in LotR.

    • I really liked what they changed, and Jackson has a lovely powerful scene with Bilbo and Thorin. Thorin has much more depth than in the Hobbit, because pieces of his back story are filled in from the Return of the King appendices, and also I think, from parts of the Simarillion

      I’m re reading The Hobbit now, and really enjoying it. However, I must say that the elves in The Hobbit are rather um, drunk. In the movie, Elrond and the others comport themselves with more dignity

  3. Gee says:

    Most of the time, movies do not seem to do justice to novels or other original works. There are some exceptions, of course: The film version of Gone with the Wind is fantastic (as is the novel); the movie version of The Wizard of Oz is superior, in my view, to L. Frank Baum’s book; My Fair Lady, I think, is better than George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. However, these are exceptions. I thought the film version of Tolkien’s trilogy was good, but not nearly as good as The Lord of the Rings itself, and, although I haven’t seen the movie adaptation of The Hobbit, I would venture to say that it is difficult to improve upon Tolkien’s story as he told it himself. Of course, movies are works of art, more or less, in their own right, and the movie version of The Hobbit may be very good, indeed (or not). Each must be evaluated on its own terms. I have the annotated Hobbit, the scholarly glosses to the text of which, and the background material concerning both the author and his times as well as the book itself, enhance the pleasure, for me, of reading the novel anew. In any case, if the film version of The Hobbit can get someone who hasn’t read the book to do so (or get someone who has read it to read it again), bravo! I look forward to your review of the movie, if you decide to share your thoughts concerning the film. Maybe, if the movie is as good, in its way, as the novel, I will see it in the theater, after all, rather than watching it on DVD. I’m glad that you and your bro are going to see the movie together! Hopefully, it will be a good, or even great, treatment of a classic story!

    • I really enjoyed it, but I’ll lay out the why and the how in another post.

      It’s worth seeing, but definitely you must divorce Jackson’s version from Tolkiens.

      It is “based” on, very loosely “based” on his work.

Be brilliant, be peculiar, be peculiarly brilliant.

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