I usually wind up saying this in regard to classics, and it’s still true here: there’s no way to actually review/critique a book like this. There just isn’t. Critics, authors, and publishers may have done so at the time of its publication, but given the evident impact of Tolkien’s work within the world of fiction, and his influence on fantasy authors worldwide, it ultimately seems silly to even attempt any critique of grammar, plot, or syntax, or to give a review beyond anything more than preference.
That being said, once I got into this book, I really hated the fact that I had to go to work, or to spend time with people, because I really enjoyed reading every page.
For those of you who don’t know, The Hobbit is the story of one Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit from the Shire who enjoys his quiet, idyllic life, who finds himself on an adventure to assist a company of dwarves in reclaiming their family’s treasure from an evil dragon. It’s pretty standard fare from there; goblins, trolls, wolves, giant eagles, and harsh lands to traverse. You know, your average fantasy tale.
Well, not exactly. Though this is a children’s fantasy book, it’s been accepted fully into mainstream literature for a number of reasons, one of them being Tolkien’s style. Most fantasy authors have the world they’ve created, but they spend more time trying to convince the reader of the possibility of the world’s existence than they do telling the story (note: there are great books that do this; this isn’t necessarily always a fault). Tolkien, however, spends no time “explaining” the world; he simply invites the reader into his world and tells the story, as if the fact that hobbits, dwarves, and elves are running about with humans is entirely normal. He isn’t condescending about it either; for the reader to have picked up the book is to indicate acceptance of all things within Middle-Earth.
One of the things I loved the most about the book was not needing to read it through the lens of some literary theory or criticism. For me, at least, this was simply a story of a great quest for treasure. Don’t get me wrong; in that statement alone, you can do all kinds of critical theory and literary criticism, and many have done so to The Hobbit, comparing it to Beowulf (which Tolkien stated was a great influence of his for this book), invoking Jungian concepts of individuation and Joseph Campbell’s writings on mythology to get at the heart of Tolkiens writing. That’s all well and good, and it isn’t that I don’t find literary criticism entertaining and thought-provoking, but I found The Hobbit more enjoyable when read without an analytical eye and purely for the enjoyment of it. In a way, I think I wound up reading it like a child would; with imagination and wonder. Again, I have no problem with literary criticism, but this wasn’t the time or the place for it.
Stories like this one carry with them an ability to speak to our spirits. The reader right there with Bilbo the whole way, whether he’s in the giant palm of a troll, or taking in the beauty of Elrond the Elf’s home in Rivendell, or trudging across the Misty Mountains while the stone giants play games with boulders. It invokes the reader’s desire for adventure, encouraging them to step off their doorstep and into the world about them, taking on whatever task or danger is set before them, and coming home a new person. We’re all about calculated risks in this world, often for good reason, but it’s rebelling against that reason that leads people to do great things.
Anyway, read this book! I’m psyched to see the movie this weekend, but read the book first!