Guest Review by Jen Hughes
“A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped.”
The hobbit;like the dwarf but smaller, with hairier feet and much, much more chilled out. They were featured in J.R.R Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel which was also called “The Hobbit”, after its unlikely hero Bilbo Baggins. The book is the first in the Lord of the Rings book series.
In the novel, Bilbo Baggins is roped into a quest in Middle Earth to help some dwarves with silly names claim back treasure stolen from their people by the merciless dragon, Smaug. It tells the tale of the entire journey from Bilbo’s home to the Misty Mountain Dwarven Kingdom where this treasure is hoarded, detailing every foe they must face along the way. The quest is led by the dwarven nobleman, Thorin, who has a real complex from losing his palace and his inheritance, and is guided by the wise wizard Gandalf.
At the start, Bilbo hates every minute of the quest. You can’t blame him considering he’s cold, hungry all the time and misses home. But he becomes more and more in his element as he faces more foes and challenges. This personal growth makes you identify more with him, and come to like him even more. Dare I say that he becomes a better leader than Thorin by the end? While almost everyone else is squabbling over money and power, all he wants is to be back in his hobbit-hole in time for his second breakfast.
The plot moves a little slowly for my taste, but really heats up in the second half when they finally arrive to the Misty Mountains. Tolkien makes sure he mentions every tiny thing that happens on the quest- every little conflict, every pitstop and pretty much every exchange between the characters (or at least it feels that way), even including what they had for dinner at one point or another!
He’s barely left the Hobbit Hills before they have to fight and loot a couple of greedy trolls. Then they must hide in goblin caverns, trek through giant-spider-infested forests, escape from an elfin dungeon an elaborate plan involving barrels and a river. Not to mention, Bilbo also takes the ring from from Gollum, LOTR culture reference, and lives to tell the tale.
You, the reader are geared up to quite like Bilbo from the start. Like most hobbits, Bilbo wants nothing more than to be comfortable and to spend time with his people. He is kindly, even when at the start of the book, Thorin and his merry men gatecrash and raid his cupboards.
He has no real desire for wealth or power, but what does drive him to go is a small desire for adventure, like his ancestors once adventured.
“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”
Although it is arguably glacial, the pacing is amazing for letting you imagine and explore Middle Earth. From Bilbo’s warm, cosy hobbit home to the dark caverns where Gollum lurks, from the humans’ settlements to the Mountain Palace itself, illuminated by the vast horde of shiny gold- you can see it all in technicolour.
Tolkien places lyrics from dwarven& elfin folk songs and poems throughout the prose. This serves as a way of informing you of some of the detailed history of the book series without you having to read The Simallarion and it breaks up the prose to make it a lighter read.
The Misty Mountains song in the first chapter, The Unexpected Party is a prime example of this:
The pines were roaring on the height
The winds were moaning in the night
The fire was red, it flaming spread
Their trees like torches blazed with light
Far over the misty mountains grim
To dungeons deep and caverns dim
We must ere break of day
To win our harps and gold from him!
There is also a prominent theme of the corruption of money. Pretty much everything in the book points to it. The quest- and therefore the whole story- is driven by Thorin’s thirst for power and money. Smaug is the embodiment of what can happen if you are to driven by money. Any conflict that happens happens because of either money or the treasure. You will find this especially apparent in Chapter 15: Gathering the Clouds, after Smaug is finally vanquished, trust me!
The Hobbit is also the first time we see the Ring, which becomes more central in later books. In this book, it becomes more a plot device. It allows Bilbo to do things he couldn’t do otherwise, like escape from a goblin hoard and Gollum or spy on Smaug without being burned alive.
However, there are some problems with the characters of the dwarves.T horin is not a likeable character even from the start, and becomes more unlikeable as the story goes on.This is probably deliberate, as he, too, is driven by wealth and treasure. If it weren’t for his obsession for his title, he would have been thoroughly forgettable. Not only that, there are something like eight dwarves. There are far too many to allow for character development. They are just names and disposable foot soldiers in the quest, and it is so easy to lose track of them.This is a real shame, because they could add something to the plot if a bit more time was taken on them.
Overall, The Hobbit is a good story. It is a tale of an unlikely hero on a journey of self-discovery. Characters like Thorin feel victorious winning wars and wealth, securing alliances that provide more wealth. But in reality, Bilbo has gained the most. He has discovered courage he didn’t think he had and has become wise in his experience.
If you love fantasy or science fiction literature or films- or even just a good game old Dungeons and Dragons or Munchkin- this is definitely one to put on your reading list. If I’ve intrigued you a little, I highly recommend you follow that instinct. You won’t regret it.
I hope this review inspires you to read the book, or indeed read anything! What did you think of The Hobbit? Was my review fair? Please tell me your opinions in the comments, especially if you have anything to add. I’m looking forward to some lively discussion.
About the Reviewer: Jen Hughes is a young fiction writer from Ayrshire, Scotland. She has always absorbed other media like books, film and TV which have inspired her to write her own fiction.
She has been furiously scribbling ideas and writing elaborate stories from as early as age 7 but hasn’t started putting her work out there until very recently. These stories have beenpublished on various online journals such as Oletangy Review, Minus Paper and Pulp Metal Magazine. She also has her own website which has an up-to-date portfolio of short works: dearoctopuswriting.wordpress.com.
This is her first try at writing a review, and hopefully won’t be her last.