The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien



Four stars, read in 2012 for Banned Books Week.

I liked this even better than The Lord of the Rings (which I haven’t technically finished, but I’ve read The Fellowship of the Ring and most of The Two Towers). With a few exceptions, The Hobbit went faster and had more compressed action—which isn’t necessarily a thing that makes me like a book, but in this case, it works to make it more readable.

I love the way Tolkien writes dialogue, and I love the whole Middle Earth world. The one thing that didn’t quite click for me about this book, though, is that the premise doesn’t seem very compelling. Frodo must take the ring to Mordor because if it’s not destroyed, all of Middle Earth will be. The whole reason for the journey in The Hobbit, on the other hand, is that some dwarves want some treasure. I think we’re supposed to understand that for dwarves, treasure is that compelling a force—and there’s some business about reclaiming their family’s territory, etc. I can sort of see that… Sort of. But I don’t see why Gandalf would have recruited Bilbo to go on such a dangerous journey for no larger reason than that the dwarves need a burglar (which Bilbo isn’t). (And why do the dwarves need a burglar? I never understood this, either. Bilbo turns out to be immeasurably valuable to them, but that comes as a surprise; in the beginning, they don’t think he’ll be very useful. So why did they bring him along in the first place?)

Also, a question that keeps coming up when I watch the movie trailer: Why wouldn’t Bilbo have told Frodo about this journey? Why would he keep it a secret, when he’s told Frodo about other adventures? I’m thinking of the beginning of the trailer, where Bilbo’s voice-over says, “While I can honestly say I’ve told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it” and then the music goes all ominous, as though this is a painful part of Bilbo’s history that’s about to be shared. I’m sure it’s just something they added to the movie for drama, but it doesn’t really make sense. (But for the record, I’m looking forward to the movie so much, and I really did love this book.)

Published 1937. Widely banned from school libraries in the 1960s and 1970s. Burned en masse in New Mexico in 2001, challenged often in public schools.

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