With the movie coming out, I figured I should give The Hobbit another read. It’s my favourite book, more for sentimental reasons than technical, and this is my fourth or fifth time through it. The book has its flaws, but I find them easy to overlook.
Some of my earliest memories are of my dad reading this to me as a child. I remember lying in bed every night excited to get back to the adventure. He’d even do the voices and terrify me with Gollum’s riddles. I found out recently that my mom used to stand and listen to him read from the doorway, but I don’t remember ever noticing. This book, and those nights, are probably a large part of why I’m still reading fiction today.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
This is the story that came before The Lord of the Rings. It tells of Bilbo Baggins begrudgingly joining a group of 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, after a little manipulation from the wizard Gandalf. Their goal is to take back the Kingdom Under the Mountain, the home of Thorin’s clan when he was a child, and retrieve the hoard of treasure left there when it was abandoned.
The treasure is still being guarded by Smaug, the dragon that ruined the clan and drove Thorin and the other survivors into exile. Gandalf helped plan the return with Thorin and insisted that they bring Bilbo along, and as reluctant as the hobbit may have initially been, he eventually found himself on a pony and riding into the unknown.
It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.
Reading this really brings me back to my childhood. It’s a string of one adventurous encounter and setting after the next – escaping the trolls, meeting Gollum, flying on the backs of eagles, getting lost in Murkwood, sneaking up on a dragon. I probably passed out half the nights we were reading this just from holding my breath in anxiety.
The first of the three new movies is due out in December, and I’m interested to see how they’ve done it. I don’t know how they’ll pull off The Hobbit after already making The Lord of the Rings. The quest is of a much smaller scale, and the story telling is quite linear and simple. It is a children’s book, after all. I’m curious to see how audiences will react with the expectations they’ll surely have after the previous trilogy.
As for coming out with three movies from one small book – I’m fine with it. I’m looking forward to them all. I know people get up in arms when directors make changes or additions to their beloved source material, but that’s always seemed silly to me. I try to view film adaptations as their own entities. I want to enjoy it, and that enjoyment has no bearing on how closely the stories are aligned. The Hobbit novel will always be here, untouched, and no movie good or bad is going to change that. They could set it in space and cast Justin Bieber as Bilbo Baggins, and it will still not affect my memory of the novel or the pleasure I’ll get from it in future re-reads.
Whether you’re planning to see the movie or not, you should give the novel a try.
There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
And read to your kids.