Friday, January 13, 2012

REVIEW: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien

"He was trembling with fear, but his little face was set and grim. Already he was a very different hobbit front he one that had run out without a pocket-handkerchief from Bag-End long ago. He had not had a pocket-handkerchief for ages. He loosened his dagger in its sheath, tightened his belt, and went on."

I was getting frustrated with Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes (which I am sure will appear on this blog in due course), so I put it down to read this old favorite. 

Bilbo Baggins is a comfortable, respectable hobbit, happy to wile away his days in his cozy hobbit hole and live an unremarkable life. Gandalf, however, has other plans and whisks Bilbo away on an adventure through the Misty Mountains and the dark Mirkwood, over the River Running to the Lonely Mountain with a group of surly dwarves, and the little hobbit is changed forever.

I have loved this book ever since my dad read it to me as a child. He would do all the voices and sing all the songs. I don't think I have read it since middle school, though, so it was a bit of a jarring experience to read it again at age 27, after having read and seen the Lord of the Rings and while waiting impatiently for the Hobbit movie to come out. It colored my experience a bit.

It took me a while to get back into the style of it. It is a child's story and thus views Middle Earth through an incredibly innocent lens. Gandalf is the uber-adult, who takes care of the hobbit and the dwarfs, and makes such statements like "I am such a great wizard, and even I was concerned for a moment." You know that if Gandalf is there things will turn out ok. It was hard to reconcile this Gandalf with the Gandalf in LOTR at times. The imminent danger of death is not there, as it was in LOTR. It is very much a "hobbit's holiday," where things get dangerous (or "uncomfortable" as Bilbo says), and there is a potential for death, but not like it was for Boromir, or Haldir, or Theodin or any of the thousands who were slaughtered in LOTR. This is the world Pre-Sauron, where when you went on adventures, it is a great surprise to encounter severe problems (as it was for the dwarves at the start of the journey). Characters do die, but it is not portrayed as a brutal waste, but as a noble and kingly end. 

It was also difficult to reconcile the Hobbit elves (merrymaking, singing and making jokes) with the elves of LOTR (serious, ethereal and rather dull). 

However, the meat of the story still gladdened my heart: the story of a silly gentleman hobbit who is thrust into a quest against his will and transforms into a brave, wise, and resourceful adventurer (though he still occasionally longs for his cozy hobbit hole). The encounter with Gollum was as creepy and clever as ever, though I still don't understand some of the riddles). I started to really get invested once the spiders hit (one of my favorite moments) and Bilbo comes into his own. The moments come fast and furious after that: the Elven King, Barrel-Rider, banter with Smaug, the Arkenstone, the dwarves bursting out of the mountain into battle,  the deaths of friends, the journey home and the auction and the epilogue. 

The language was a delicious blend of the poetry of the Viking Eddas and simple English country talk. Some of the phrases role rhythmically off your tongue, like "The Arkenstone of Thrain," or "Thorin Oakenshield." Sometimes they use high romantic language, and Tolkien translates it into plain English for the reader, which amused me greatly: "'We are sent from Dain son of Nain,' they said when questioned. 'We are hastening to our kinsmen in the Mountain, since we learned that the kingdom of old is renewed. But who are you that sit in the plain as foes before defended walls?' This, of course, in the polite and rather old-fashioned language of such occasions, meant simply: 'You have no business here. We are going on, so make way or we shall fight you.'"

I also enjoyed how he let the dwarves be grumpy. Often in modern culture there is a huge push to hide that you are out of sorts, or to get out of it as soon as possible; that it is a deficiency in yourself if you allow any negativity. Tolkien lets them sit in their grouchiness for a while, and not only is it allowed, it is natural and justified! They would scold the hobbit and sulk for a while if they had been scared for no reason, or if they had no food, or if they had spent a few days bobbing in barrels. And it was understood, allowed, and passed naturally when they had a good meal, or were left alone for a while. 

The Hobbit is always worth a re-read, and makes me very happy in this cold weather to go home to my cozy hobbit hole, eat a good meal, and drink tea in front of a hypothetical roaring fire. 

No comments:

Post a Comment