When I was a child, I remember seeing the cartoon version of J.R.R Tolkien’s masterpiece, “The Hobbit.” It wasn’t until my adulthood that I first read the book. In some ways, I am saddened that my childhood never had the chance to experience, firsthand, the creative expressions of Tolkien without the interference from visual filters, such as the movie I had seen. This would become akin to Harry Potter in the 2000’s; the rise of the movies totally shadowed and transformed my vision of the books each subsequent time I read them.
Nevertheless, the book truly is a masterpiece of fiction writing. What we take for granted in Tolkien’s writing is the sheer brilliance at the time he wrote it. Most would be aghast to remember that Tolkien penned both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings around the 1930’s and 1940’s. One of the monumental feats of the work is the culmination of a world of fantasy that incorporated all elements of the fantasy genre that we know and love today. In other words, this is the first novel that truly featured elves, dwarves, men, and other creatures into a cohesive narrative that spawned an entire genre called “fantasy.”
This is coupled with the fact that Tolkien was inspired to write these books as an outlet to his experience during the Great War. Without a doubt, one can see the battlefields that Tolkien describes in the Hobbit as a harsh duality to the war-torn, trench-ridden sites of Western Europe at the height of the conflict. In this vein, the themes that Tolkien puts forward as object lessons are obvious: the greed of men (and of dragons); the lust for power; the inability for the hearts of people to compromise in light of money and corruption; longing for the “simple life”; the terrors and tragedies of war; how strength can be misperceived in power and how the smallest person can enact radical change, etc.
All of this corresponds to a tale that must be read in order to be appreciated. Starting out with Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, in the homely town of the Shire, a great wizard, Gandalf the Grey, sees in him someone to be appreciated. Gandalf leads a party of dwarves at Bilbo’s house where they proceed to make him their “burglar,” to his apparent chagrin. He sleeps in, hoping the entire thing was a dream. Instead of forgoing the potential quest, he joins the dwarves journey to the Misty Mountains to reclaim an equally mountainous treasure, guarded by the dragon Smaug. Luckily, Gandalf has provided the dwarves with a key and a map of the mountain, making their goal within reach (if only they had a burglar!). Thus Biblo, Gandalf, and the dwarves journey onward to the Misty Mountains, running into trouble along the way that will test the will of Bilbo. The strangest thing he encounters is an odd ring that makes the wearer disappear; a magical object that will have great significance in a little-known sequel to the Hobbit: The Lord of the Rings.
It really is a tale that needs to be experienced via the original words of Tolkien himself. It is a classic for a reason, and it has stood the test of time and will continue to inspire and entertain. I plan on reading this to my own children; perhaps, in a way, as filling them in on a part of my childhood that I missed. In another way, to entertain and inspire!