If you really come down to any large story that interests people, or holds their attention for a considerable time, the stories are practically always are human stories, and the stories are practically always about one thing aren’t they: Death and the inevitability of death. (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Cover art 1975 ed. by J.R.R. Tolkien
I wonder if I came to The Hobbit the same way everybody else has. First I read The Lord of The Rings. I loved it. Then I discovered that Tolkien had written other books and one of them was The Hobbit. I set out on a quest to go through all of his fantasy work. I should probably read some of Tolkien’s academical work as well, but alas. I have wondered at the sense of writing yet another review on the subject. Then I remember how much I liked The Hobbit and I think that there probably is room for another fan out there amongst the 1s and 0es.
“John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892 …. At the age of three his mother brought him and his younger brother, Hilary, back to England. Tolkien’s father died soon afterwards in South Africa …. When he was 12, Tolkien’s mother died, and he and his brother … lived with aunts and in boarding homes …. The young Tolkien … excelled in classical and modern languages … and began to create his own languages….
Tolkien wrote ‘A Middle English Vocabulary’, but it was not published until 1922 …. During this time he began serious work on creating languages that he imagined had been spoken by elves. The languages were based primarily on Finnish and Welsh. He also began his “Lost Tales” a mythic history of men, elves, and other creatures he created to provide context for his “Elvish” languages…
It was also during his years at Oxford that Tolkien would scribble an inexplicable note in a student’s exam book: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.” Curious as to what exactly a “Hobbit” was and why it should live in a hole, he began to build a story about a short creature who inhabited a world called Middle-earth. This grew into a story he told his children, and in 1936 a version of it came to the attention of the publishing firm of George Allen and Unwin.” (Tolkien biography, Tolkien Library)
Note: On Thror’s map, east is up.
The Shire is an idyllic place to live. Middle-Earth’s rising problems have not yet impacted on the Hobbits living there, and they will not for quite some time. Bilbo Baggins is a seemingly average hobbit. Hobbits are shorter than humans, have furry feet (making foot-wear uncomfortable) and enjoy socializing. Bilbo lives contentedly in his hole in the ground on a hilltop.
Drumroll. Gandalf arrives. Thus far, The Hobbit has been a pleasant children’s tale, not really giving warning of anything nasty about to come. Gandalf is one of the very certain pointers to dangerous things coming one’s way. To begin with Gandalf’s visit is fairly pleasant. But then 13 dwarves appear, for some reason with the belief that Bilbo is supposed to be one of their party searching for the Lonely Mountains and the treasure of the dwarves. After a lot of convincing by Gandalf, both parties decide to give the adventure together a shot.
If you think children should only meet pleasantness, this is probably a good place to end the story. What comes after entails quite a bit of unpleasantness. But the unpleasantness is presented in such a manner that a child would probably want their parent to keep on reading (and you as a parent would want to keep on reading yourself). The Hobbit is certainly not only a children’s tale. It is very much for adults as well. But please do not try to analyze the book. Tolkien himself said that The Hobbit was what it was – no allegories or hidden messages were intended.
I’m not really sure how much to reveal. This is a story that is about to be blown open by the movie industry. But until then, it might only be fair to the reader to keep some things under wrap. Tolkien introduces us to the mythology of England through The Hobbit. I’m certain his children loved the way Tolkien made English mythology so accessible for them. Through The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings we as an audience get to know old English beliefs about the world of the fantastic.
On his journey with the dwarves, Bilbo meets trolls. As a Norwegian I am very familiar with the troll myth. Trolls aren’t cute little key-chain trolls that you can get at souvenir stores. They are ugly, large and quite often stupid. Unfortunately for most of the people they meet, trolls are also capable of smelling their victims and finding them wherever they are. But there is one advantage to be had over trolls, and that is sunlight. They turn to stone if even a ray hits them.
Shape-shifters, on the other hand, are not a common Norwegian myth. Bilbo gets to meet one of them, in the shape of Beorn. As you might guess from the name, Beorn’s other shape is a bear and he is a fierce fighter. He is wary of strangers, but once he takes to you, he is willing to go to great lengths to help you.
The other non-humans that the gang of 15 meets are elves, who are good for a given definition of good. Some of the baddies are wargs (great big hulking wolves), goblins (tend to want to eat you) and Smaug the dragon. Smaugs lair is where the treasure is (otherwise The Hobbit wouldn’t be as fun). Smaug is who we see on the cover above.
As Gandalf had predicted at the beginning of the book, Bilbo would not remain the same person as he went through his adventures. And this prediction comes true. A very changed hobbit meets us at the end of the book. He has discovered that he is capable of a lot more than he had thought possible. And if we absolutely have to look for a moral to this story, I guess that is as good as any. We are capable of more than we think is possible.
1938: New York Herald Tribune Children’s Spring Book Festival Award.
For all of you Hobbit-nutters out there, you can now get the Latin version of the book. See Middle-Earth News for information.
1966: A 12-minute film of cartoon stills by Gene Deitch.
1977: an animated version by Rankin/Bass. Nominated for Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. I’ve seen this several times on national TV and quite like it.
2012: planned release of film-version of the first installation in a three-part story by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and New Line Cinema. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; The Hobbit: There and Back Again.
1978: Romeo Muller won a Peabody Award for his teleplay for the Rankin/Bass The Hobbit.
1953: First stage production by St. Margaret’s School, Edinburgh. Several others have followed later.
1986: The Hobbit (A Musical) was produced for the stage by Khandallah Arts Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand.
2001: The Atlantic Theatre Festival in Wolfville, Nova Scotia is presenting a production of The Hobbit.
2012: The Hobbit returns to The Maverick Theater in Fullerton, California.
1968: Radio-adaptation in eight parts for BBC Radio4 by Michael Kilgarriff. Was released on audio cassette in 1988 and on CD in 1997.
1989: three-part comic-book adaptation by Chuck Dixon and Sean Deming and illustrated by David Wenzel. Published by Eclipse Comics.
1982: The Hobbit, by Beam Software and published by Melbourne House. A copy of the novel was included in each game package.
1999: ME Games Ltd. was offered the licence to run Middle-Earth Play by Mail, an ongoing team-game based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
2012: The Hobbit: Boardgame by Fantasy Flight Games.
1983: The Hobbit (Beam Software) won the Golden Joystick Award for Strategy Game of the Year in 1983.
1995-1999: Fellows of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design awarded the Origin Awards: Best On-going PBM Game: Middle Earth PBM Fourth Age (Game Systems).
1999: ME Games PBM was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design’s Hall of Fame.
Letters From Father Christmas is a gem from J.R.R. Tolkien. I have Letters as an audiobook. Derek Jacobi reads Father Christmas’ voice, John Moffatt reads Polar Bear’s voice and Christian Rodska reads Ilbereth’s voice.
“In these letters, Father Christmas kept the Tolkien children updated with stories about the hijinks at the North Pole – the slapsticky North Polar Bear and all the things he broke, firework explosions, the discovery of ancient caves full of old cave drawings, and battles with the goblins. (When Father Christmas couldn’t write, his Elvish secretary filled in).
Tolkien’s old-school style of writing is a bit formal and very correct, but he tosses in comments of exasperation, amusement, and in the last letter, a sort of sad resignation that children will grow up. Maybe it is because they were given to real children, not intended for publication, that the letters are only a little cutesy, and never cloying.”
A delightful read and completely unlike anything else that I have read by Tolkien. His love for his children and grand-children shows throughout the writing.