Warning: Spoilers ahead, my precious!
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” So begins one of the most popular fantasy books of all time. Until recently, I’d never finished The Hobbit, but I knew that opening sentence by heart because it’s famous and more importantly because I have tried over and over again to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. That’s right; I’m sixteen and only now read The Hobbit. Many of my friends as well as fellow bloggers apparently read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and its prequel at age seven or eight or nine. If I remember correctly, I first tried to read The Fellowship of the Ring at age eight but I never got farther than a few chapters. This time it was different.
The aforementioned hobbit, Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, enjoys his quiet life in the Shire. He has vaguely thought about adventures, but doesn’t really expect to have any. One day the wizard Gandalf visits him along with thirteen dwarves: Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, and Thorin Oakenshield.. Gandalf thinks that Bilbo would be a good addition to their expedition of defeating the terrible dragon Smaug and taking his treasure. Bilbo isn’t so sure but ends up traveling with them anyway. Along the way he encounters trolls, elves, goblins known as Orcs, huge eagles, wolves known as Wargs, and a slimy creature known as Gollum. He journeys through the dark forest of Mirkwood, attempts to be a pickpocket, stays at Rivendell the Last Homely House, and finds a ring. In the end Smaug is defeated and Bilbo realizes that he loves having adventures, but most importantly he finds that ring.
What was different about reading The Hobbit this time? This time I enjoyed it. I think the last time I tried to read it was age thirteen and I only made it up to the protagonists being rescued by eagles from goblins and Wargs. Every previous time I tried to read Tolkien, I quickly became bored. This time that didn’t happen. I told myself fiercely that I was going to finish The Hobbit so that I would understand what was happening in the movie adaptation coming out in December. I wanted to read The Hobbit and the trilogy and then see the trilogy’s movies before I saw the new movie – and I wanted to do as much of that as possible before November and NaNoWriMo because I would have more time in October. I told myself to stick with it; I could finish this book if I were really motivated.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to make myself keep reading. I read The Hobbit over the course of four days and during that time I didn’t read any other book because I had to know what happened next. It hasn’t changed much with the trilogy either – in that I don’t want to read anything else, but I have to now because there’s stuff to read for school. (I am currently on the second chapter of The Two Towers, having finished The Fellowship of the Ring also in just four days.) Something clicked this time and I have fallen in love with Tolkien’s works. Yes, I admit it. I have fallen helplessly in love with the series. It’s a wonderful feeling because this hasn’t happened to me in a long time. Oh, I love Harry Potter and the Hunger Games and Kiki Strike. However, Kiki Strike is currently a series of only two books. I already knew the entire plot of the Hunger Games due to Wikipedia. I began Harry Potter eight years ago and finished it five years ago, which is long compared to how long I’ve been alive. Here were a bunch of books that I didn’t know much about and hadn’t tried to read in a while.
What was it that I liked so much about The Hobbit? The story itself is definitely creative, but I think I like the writing more than the plot and characters. I used to find Tolkien unbearably wordy and now I don’t. Perhaps it’s because I’m older now and have a longer attention span, although surely there can’t be that much difference between thirteen and sixteen. Maybe I was just so caught up in the story that I didn’t care when Tolkien described every step taken by the expedition.
The Hobbit was unexpectedly funny. I wouldn’t categorize it as humor, but it wasn’t always serious either. Gandalf is actually quite witty and I loved the scenes where he fooled the trolls and told a story to Beorn. Christopher Paolini writes high fantasy just like Tolkien and often tries to be funny in his Inheritance Cycle, but with less-than-stellar results. I now have a better opinion of humor in high fantasy because Tolkien knows the right way to do things. In fact, reading Tolkien’s works has not only increased my opinion of Tolkien; it has also decreased my opinion of Paolini. I now adore elves and dwarves but for a long time I hated them because Paolini’s are annoying and stuck-up.
I have only a few issues with this book. The first is that whenever Tolkien says “you or I” as in “…I don’t suppose you or I would have noticed anything at all on a windy night…” it disrupts the story. I picked up The Hobbit and fell into the story; every time he wrote “you or I” I was pulled back into the modern world and out of the tale. It’s not something that I would recommend budding authors to do. Another problem with The Hobbit is that Tolkien’s fight scenes aren’t very good. Yes, Bilbo had a few scary encounters with Smaug the dragon, but he didn’t get to kill Smaug! In general Smaug’s death and the Battle of Five Armies were rather anticlimatic in my opinion. Still, at least Tolkien didn’t end the story with, “And just as the terrible dragon swooped down to incinerate the heroes with its fiery and oddly minty-fragranced breath, Thorin Oakenshield discovered an atomic bomb and detonated it, blowing up all of Middle-earth. And so our story ends, for we have neither protagonists nor antagonists left now.” I’ve written several very rushed and ridiculous endings like that, so hats off to you, Mr. Tolkien, for not doing that!
But those issues don’t matter that much, because there’s something so awesome that it nearly cancels out those things. That thing is Gollum, my favorite character. I know that he’s creepy – that’s not why I like him. Honestly, I would be terrified of him. No, what I love about him so much is his background. While Gollum and Bilbo are riddling each other, Tolkien writes, “Asking [riddles], and sometimes guessing them, had been the only game he had ever played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long, long ago, before he lost all his friends and was driven away, alone, and crept down, down, into the dark under the mountains.” When Bilbo takes Gollum’s most prized possession – a small golden ring that makes the wearer invisible – Gollum loses “the only thing he ever cared for, his precious.” Gollum grieves for it and “the cry brought Bilbo’s heart to his mouth…”
I must have noticed those parts before, because I remember reading that scene before. But I’d never really thought about it until now. Gollum used to play games. He used to have friends. He used to be not too different from Bilbo – or from us. When I learned more about his past in The Fellowship of the Ring I loved him even more, because his story is fascinating. What happened to him is not his fault; it’s that of the ring and Gollum couldn’t have avoided the ring because it will seek out certain beings as the next bearers. But let’s not get too far into that matter, because that’s for a review of another book. Bilbo and Gandalf are excellent characters, but Gollum is currently my favorite and I think he always will be. There are a number of reasons why I love Lord of the Rings and Gollum’s story is probably the most important.
I wasn’t sure how this most recent attempt to read Tolkien would go, so I was delighted to realize that I loved The Hobbit. I think that deep down all of us have a lot in common with Bilbo – we love adventures in theory, don’t like them as much when things get dangerous, and finally realize that we do love adventures once we get back. Do I wish that I’d read Tolkien’s books earlier? Honestly, no. I’ve tried to read The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring several times before and could never become interested enough to actually finish them. I think all I needed was a little time; it made all the difference because now I’m enamored with Middle-earth. Now we can’t wait for the new movie, can we, my precious? Of course not, gollum! We wants to see it at midnight, we do! We will search our pocketses for money to pay for a ticket!