Wednesday, September 11, 2013

There and Back Again

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

It's been a long time since I've read any Tolkien.  But I've had The Hobbit on my mind ever since the first of the films came out.  I have no interest in seeing it, though Martin Freeman is one of my favorite actors, but I've been curious about how it could be stretched over three films.  And then Anbolyn mentioned that she was planning to read it soon. The third crow for me was a book I didn't get on with at all, about the Roman Catholic elements in Tolkien's work. Although I didn't finish it, it brought his stories vividly to mind, particularly The Hobbit.

As far as I can remember, I first came across Tolkien on the bookshelves of my cousins.  My aunt said I was welcome to borrow The Hobbit and all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings.  It was years before I appreciated how generous my cousins were in letting them go without a word, or felt any shame over the fact that I not only took them but never gave them back!  (Larry and Chris, if you ever read this, I can bring them next time I come to Portland!)

Whew - confession of book burglary over.  Which is very appropriate, of course, in discussing a book about a burglar.  It was such fun meeting Bilbo Baggins again, and Gandalf, who seem like old friends.  That first chapter is wonderful, with Bilbo so settled into his comfortable life, only to be upset first by Gandalf's conversation and then by the overlapping arrivals of so many dwarfs for that most unexpected party.  But from that very first chapter, he rises to the occasion, nudged by that Tookish streak in him, which sets him off on his adventures with the wizard and the Twelve Dwarfs.  It was lovely to watch him grow from that rather comic figure, sunning himself complacently on his front steps, into the hero of their quest, while still remaining true to his own hobbit self - and not without some grumbling here and there, and some definitely unheroic moments.  It was also lovely to see Gandalf in a more light-hearted adventure, not yet burdened with the cares and responsibilities of the Fellowship.

It was a bit slow going at first, because so much reminded me of the later books, and I kept pulling The Fellowship of the Ring off the shelf to read different parts, like Frodo and Company's encounter with the trolls, or their arrival at Rivendell. (And then I went around for days with "Gil-galad was an Elven king..." running through my head). I had also confused some parts of this book with the later stories, like expecting Shelob to show up in Mirkwood.  Then there was much that I had forgotten, like the bearish Beorn, to whom Gandalf introduces his companions so adroitly.  And while I remembered that Bilbo bravely ventured into Smaug's lair, I had forgotten he went more than once, and the adventures he had there. (I have to say, Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug almost tempts me to see the third film after all.)  Nor did I remember the Arkenstone and the crucial part it plays in the story.

Reading this reminded me of how much I love Tolkien's books, and hobbits in particular.  I think I'll be setting off again with the Fellowship of the Ring before too long.


  1. It's been years since I've read this but it's my favorite Tolkien. I think I like it much more than the others because it's a straightforward adventure story. I think it's really too bad that the filmmaker is going for three parts. It would really make a great single movie.

  2. I read and loved all of them in the 70's after Univ. I could reread the Hobbit again but don't think I could read the trilogy again. Did see all the films and enjoyed them though I tend to look at films of books as quite separte entities and just enjoy them for what they are.

  3. I love The Hobbit but haven't read it for a long time and have been thinking about a re-read too. I don't have much interest in seeing the films either and can't imagine why three are necessary, especially as there was only one for each of the Lord of the Rings books! Despite loving The Hobbit I could never really get into the Lord of the Rings but maybe I should give them another chance too.

  4. James, I think it's a perfect adventure story! But people who read it for the first time after seeing the film(s) are bound to be disappointed, and that's a shame.

    Pam, I wish I could separate the films from the books, but I can't manage it with books I really love (like these), so I just skip them. My cable box insists on records the films for me, though :)

    Helen, Anbolyn was saying that they've added in parts from the Silmarillion, of all things! just completely wrong for The Hobbit, to my mind.

  5. I reread The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books recently too, and I have a renewed love for Beorn -- what a great character!

  6. I thought the film worked very well. Jackson had made one or two changes that were necessary because he made "The Lord of the Rings" before "The Hobbit" whereas Tolkien, of course, did it the other way round and a significant but I thought forgivable addition which enabled the film to have a narrative completeness even though it is only one third of the story. All in all it's better than the earlier films.

  7. I have seen the film and on the whole I liked it. Though I'd still have preferred a long single film. It may have helped that I haven't read the book for a long time and so I wasn't entirely sure what was added and what I'd forgotten.

    The book I first read aged eleven, and I've read it a few times since and loved it each time.

  8. I love both the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I used to revisit them frequently--I never seem to get tired of them.

    I did see The Hobbit, in the theatre with the 3D and high frame rate--the full experience, short of IMAX. I enjoy Jackson's films if I consider the stories separately from the books. Mostly, I enjoy getting to spend time in Middle Earth; Peter Jackson captures the place really well, even if he ramps up the action more than I'd like. And he's done well with casting. The Hobbit was overly long, and he could have managed it in one, or perhaps two, movies, but Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage were so good that I'd didn't mind all that much.

  9. elizabeth, I can't believe I'd forgotten Beorn! I don't think he turns up in the later books, does he? I think he'd get on well with the Ents!

    Alex, even Tolkien had to revise The Hobbit after the later books :) I'd like to read the first version but haven't found it yet.

    Jane, it's probably been ten or more years since I read this last, and I'd forgotten some of the story, so I'd have been in the same situation seeing the film. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    Teresa, I wish I could separate the film version from the book, and enjoy each on its own terms, but I just can't seem to manage it with books I care about. I can enjoy the Agatha Christie adaptations, but I can't watch the Dorothy L. Sayers ones.

  10. I haven't reread this in years but I have only wonderful memories of it. My father read it aloud to my brother and I when we were little and it was the perfect introduction to Tolkien.

  11. Claire, how lovely - this would be a perfect book for that, except for not wanting to stop! I have no memories of my parents reading to me, but I think that's probably because I was grabbing books out of their hands at a young age.

  12. I'm so glad you were able to revisit a book you loved as a child (even if it was a stolen book) :-)
    I'd really like to read it before the next film comes out so I'm going to try to fit it in somewhere.

  13. Anbolyn, your post about it was definitely a catalyst!


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!