J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)

This post is long overdue, as I chose to re-read the Hobbit close to my due date, and now the baby is close to four months old!

I won’t really discuss the literary merits of the book, because I am a Tolkien fan and I have no ambition at objectivity. The Hobbit has been a great, possible the greatest favorite of my childhood (that was before I read the Lord of the Ring). My father read it aloud to me at bedtime around age 9 or 10 I guess. I was mesmerized. The book clearly lacks feminine role models (or any female at all, unless the mere reference to Mrs. Took, Bilbo’s mother or aunt counts for anything) , but I remember role-playing Gandalf with my (geek) friends.

Rereading it this year felt great, because I knew that reading wouldn’t be among my priorities this year. I took the easy way and got the audiobook, read by French actor Dominique Pinon, of Amelie’s fame. I downloaded it into my phone, to listen to at the maternity during feedings, and later on during the long walks I took in the park to soothe the baby.

I didn’t regret this choice. Pure escapism is nice when one is tired (in case you ask, I watched the movies too, and I enjoyed them, although they aren’t, of course, exactly as good as the book, but ugh, this seems a pointless discussion to me). It was quite an immersing experience to listen during so many hours over more than a month or two. I didn’t need to concentrate as much because I knew the story, and it was very comforting to reconnect with these characters I’d known as a child.

Although I was at first surprised by the choice of reader, I was soon convinced that Pinon has a great voice for a fantasy book. His voice is raspy, husky and he doesn’t shy away from croaking, whispering, or threatening when the action demands it. He properly rolls the “r” like a dwarf is expected to (at least in French) and has an apologetic, unassuming, shy little voice for Bilbo Baggins.

As an adult reader, I was surprised to see how different the Hobbit is from the LotR trilogy. It is a lighter adventure, mainly started for fun and bravado (with its fair share of terror and personal tragedies), and although Tolkien builds worlds from scratch and makes them alive, I don’t think he had any intention to make Bilbo’s quest a deep metaphor for fate, destiny and the end of civilization (clearly the LotR has larger ambitions). Also, in terms of plot, I can really see Tolkien inventing episodes along the way as he tells them to his children, which would explain an irregular pacing and also the somewhat clumsy ending. After Smaug the dragon is defeated, everyone being greedy about the treasure, it could easily have become a deadlock and a nasty war between men, dwarves and elves, and I felt that Tolkien didn’t want to depart from the children’s lit traditional arch where good guys and bad guys are neatly separated. The arrival of the goblins and evil wolves seems like a (too?) easy way out, and Thorin’s death conveniently removes any difficulty about the dwarves’ not-so-nice intentions.

But even as an adult I can’t find (serious) fault in this book, and I’m really looking forward to reading some of it to my sons one day. In fact, my elder son might start to be of age for this, what do you think?

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3 thoughts on “J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)

  1. I read Hobbit and LOTR when I was a kid and didn’t find the Hobbit so very great but loved LOTR. Even rereading them a couple times as an adult the Hobbit lacks something. Perhaps it is the pacing and the feeling like it was made up as he went along that you mention. Still a good book though and I am glad you enjoyed an audio version. In English there is one done by the actor Rob Inglis that is marvelous. Have you seen the Hobbit movies? I think the third one comes out later this year. They are pretty good and they have tried to fix the pacing problem and the lack of female characters problem too.

  2. When they were making plans for our new central library a poll was held to see which book should be the first to be placed on the shelves. ‘The Hobbit’ won hands down. Of course, the library is bang smack in the middle of The Shire, so perhaps this is not surprising.

  3. Oh, yes! He will soon be at the age to have this read to him. I know he is younger than some would think appropriate for this, but if he doesn’t frighten easily or have nightmares, I think he, being a bright & smart child, would definitely enjoy this. My son read The Hobbit (my original copy) when he was 10 or 11, at the age where he didn’t want me to read to him any longer. I wish that we had read it together. Now, even though he is an adult, we still have gone to each of the LOTR movies together (though he did see the last Hobbit movie on his own first when it premiered). When we saw the 1st Peter Jackson Hobbit film, I didn’t realize that it was a trilogy. “Wait” I said at the end. “The book is There & Back Again and we didn’t even get ‘there’?” Still, even though I think it’s been ridiculously drawn out, I’ll sit through the last one if it is still in theatres when B & I are next in the same city.

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