Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Report: The Hobbit, by Some Guy With a Lot of Initials.

I've always loved The Hobbit. In fact, it got me reading fantasy. It was one of the first books we were supposed to read back in Grade 9 English class, and one of the only ones I remember finishing. As such, it holds a special place in my heart, and as such, it bears re-reading because my reaction to it at 13 (in 1979) is unlikely to be the same as my reaction to it now at 45.

And this is true.

Popular history has that the Hobbit was originally composed as a bedtime story (or, more likely, a series of stories) for Tolkien's son Christopher. Whether this is fact or apocrypha seems to be a matter of debate. I don't know what bedtime stories were like in the years between the two World Wars, but this book is altogether more erudite and literary than anything I've ever tried to read my daughter. It's also a lot more violent and suspenseful. It reads more like a story out of Boy's Own Adventures than something to be read before bed, which tells me that the children of the 1930s were likely a considerably more rough-and-ready bunch than the screen-potatoes of the Internet age.

It's a rambling tale, with diversions and digressions that occasionally go deep into Middle-Earth History (Quick: who was Bolg, and why is knowing this important?), and when you read it you hear the voice of the narrator taking you one step away from the action. I picture Gandalf, using Ian McKellan's voice, reciting the story while sitting by the fire with his feet up. He speaks directly to the reader, occasionally referring to "you," as he plumbs the depths of Bilbo's plight.

I wondered many times, while reading this, what a modern writer would do with the material. John Scalzi has reinterpreted H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy, and so I wonder what someone like Jay Lake or Neil Gaiman would do with the material if they were given a chance.

It be an interesting read.

Bottom line: It's a book out of time, a classic, and although I'm no longer 13, I find things to appreciate about it that never entered the head of the teenager I was.

Ulysses Rating: 4 - I loved this, and will probably read it again in twenty years.


maine character said...

I read it in 7th grade, and remember well the magic and adventure of it.

And do you remember the Rankin-Bass animated version?

It has plenty of charm, and gets the mood and characters right. Plus, there’s John Huston as Gandalf.

Ulysses said...

We read it in 9th, with Watership Down (now there's a one-two punch you don't want to mess with).

The video you link to was taken down, unfortunately, but yes I remember it. Not well, because 30 years will do that to the human brain. But I remember bits. Goblins with two throats. Smaug.

I also remember the R-B version of The Return of the King, with its disco-music bits ("Where there's a whip... there's a way!")

The scars are numerous and deep.