In these days when Lord of the Rings has become a household name, many people will be turning to Tolkiens previous book to continue the adventure. Because of this Ill begin the review with a warning. Do not expect a prequel to Lord of the Rings. Yes, its about Hobbits and a ring and yes, its set in the same world but thats about where the similarity ends.
The Hobbit is a work in its own right with its own flavour and charm. Its a smaller story, the opposite of the world shaking events that Tolkien was to tackle next. The story is the tale of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit of the Shire, who is pursuaded by the wizard Gandalf to join an expedition of thirteen Dwarves to reclaim their treasure by slaying a dragon. There are many adventures including a riddle game with the creature Gollum during which Bilbo gains the Ring that is central to the next book, ending in a large scale battle between good and evil on the mountain side. Its a very simple story and that is part of its charm, there are no big political ideals being put forward, no intricate twists in the plot, just great story telling.
Although written with children in mind it is one of those books, like todays Harry Potter books that can be read by all ages. The story contains a series of classic mythological stereotypes that come from Tolkiens day job as proffessor of Anglo Saxon literature. A dragon with one vunerable spot, a riddle game, a man who changes into a bear, dwarves, a magical ring and trolls who turn to stone in the daylight. All of these images are central to the writtings of north european mythology and folklore and as such already feel familiar to us, having been absorbed subconciously in the form of fairy tales and stories as we grow up.
There are three main characters in the story, Bilbo the unassuming would be hero, Thorin the Dwarf leader and Gandalf the wizard.
Between Bilbo and Thorin there is a power struggle. Thorin is not a true leader, even though he appears the stronger, and he becomes a foil for the qualities that Bilbo possesses. As Bilbo rises in prominance, Thorin seems to diminish, only redeeming himself with a dying apology. Gandalf is more of a mystery, we dont kow why hes involved in the adventure, and he seems to posses almost Godlike qualities, he knows what needs to be done and the part everyone should play.
The main theme of the book seems to be the development of Bilbo from timid burglar to the hero. Tolkien acknowledged that Hobbits were based on the everyday rural Englishman of his own day, but whether there is a deep message about the nature of heroes is questionable, tolkien is basically a story teller not an allegorical writer.There is a very clear cut nature to the characters and races in the story, Thorin being the slight exception. All Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits are good and live in harmony with the natural world, goblins are all evil and at odds with it. This is a very childlike approach, but then the book is aimed at children so it is understandable that the book takes such a clear cut direction.
The book is a charming read, which flows easily at the turn of the page, adults should read this to their children, or just enjoy it for themselves and keep the classic works alive in an age where reading is being lost to other forms of media.