'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.'
This is the first paragraph we are greeted with as we enter J R R Tolkien's world of hobbits, elves, dwarves and other fantastical creatures. We are given descriptions of comfort and sensory images that make us feel warm and invited into the hobbit-hole being described. We are given a tour around this home, making us feel welcome in the foreign space. And then we meet Bilbo Baggins, the inhabitant of this home, and the story begins. This is the charm, the magic, that fills the pages of Tolkien's famous story of The Hobbit. The simplistic use of language to beautifully describe the surroundings and tell the story is what captures the reader, and we are soon taken hand-in-hand on an adventure with the unlikely venturer (soon burglar), Mr Bilbo Baggins himself.
This tale, first published in 1937, hit high acclaim instantly. It was originally written as a story for Tolkien's own children but we are lucky enough that it was open for the rest of us to experience. The characters have risen to immortality with the increasing popularity of this tale, helped by the trilogy of films released based on the book. This is a story many know and have read, so I will do my best in reviewing it in an original and interesting way to hopefully inspire you to read or reread this story and experience Tolkien's magic.
As previously described, this story begins with an introduction to Bilbo's hobbit-hole. The description of his home enlightens us to the charm of hobbits in this world, depicting them as creatures who love home comforts. There is also a snippet to the history of the Bagginses, which underlines the importance of family names and what they mean for different hobbits. By granting us a beautifully crafted beginning, the tone and style of the rest of the text becomes apparent to the reader, which is one of simplicity and old-fashioned story-telling.
The first chapter is titled 'An Unexpected Party', and we are introduced to a range of characters that make up this aptly named congregation. The first (other than Bilbo) is Gandalf, a known wizard in Hobbiton for his association with Old Took. His first conversation with Bilbo is one of confusion, questions, and a promise for an adventure that Mr Baggins does not want any association with. Then, dwarves appear the next day after an accidental invitation to tea. And so the rest of the introductions begin and we meet Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur and Thorin Oakenshield.
After much food, drink and merriment, the adventure plans are laid and Bilbo is told of his part as the burglar. Since hobbits are creatures of habit and home comforts, Bilbo is reluctant. However, the 'Tookish' part of him feels differently. After much thought, the desire to set out on this adventure and to see the lands outside of Hobbiton wins Bilbo over, and we start the journey to recover the Dwarves home and gold.
We meet elves, goblins, trolls, giant spiders and more, but there are two encounters that stand out. The first is with Gollum, a creature who's background is unknown in this story. After some trouble with the goblins in the caves, Bilbo wakes up alone. He finds a ring, which is of no use to Bilbo at the time but for some reason he pockets it. It is this ring that troubles Gollum, the 'birthday-present' he received many, many years ago. It is the taking of the ring and encounter with Gollum that proves one of the most influential events of the book, although it is regarded as unremarkable to either character.
The second encounter is with Smaug the Magnificent, the dragon that guards the dwarves gold. It is through the innate ability to walk silently and unnoticed that hobbits have that throws Bilbo into meeting the dragon before the dwarves. Bilbo is assigned the duty, once they reach their destination, to go in silently through a cave to where the treasure should be. This is the first encounter with the dragon, and it is through a courage that Bilbo did not have at the beginning of the book that pushes him to grab a golden cup and leave with it as proof that the treasure exists. However, Smaug is able to detect that something has been stolen and unfurls his rage. This results in a conversation between hobbit and dragon, and through the clever use of his ring to grant him invisibility, Smaug is unable to see him to attack him. It is through this conversation we see the growth of Bilbo and the courage that has risen in him, which shows that if a hobbit can speak to a dragon then a person can do anything they set their mind to.
It is a heartfelt journey alongside Bilbo and the dwarves. They go through hardships and face mistakes in judgement, but they are always able to come together at the end of it. The Hobbit tells a tale that teaches us that agreeing to an adventure can lead to great things, that allowing yourself the opportunity to push yourself can reveal another side to us we might not have known existed, and that the values, beliefs and lessons we grow up with can become our greatest asset. As we close the book, a rhyme echoes in our minds: 'Roads go ever ever on, over rock and under tree...'.
What I thought
The Hobbit has always been a favourite story of mine. I have read it a few times previously to this but I always find enjoyment reliving the adventure. The way J R R Tolkien writes this tale amazes me with the simplicity of the language and how engaging it is. There are times I feel a part of the story, like I'm experiencing the adventure myself, and then I'm pulled back by the narrator directly commenting on the story and providing background information. In other books I have read in the past where narrators like this have been present, I tend to get annoyed because I like to be consumed by the story. However, the way it is done in this text feels natural and it works perfectly with the tone of the story.
If I had to choose one thing about this book that I loved the most, it would be the songs and poems. They provide the mood that is needed to the parts in the story they are present, may it be sombre, joyous or reminiscent. They also provide knowledge of the world Tolkien has created, that songs and poems are equally loved by most creatures in Middle-Earth. If I could live in a world where people expressed their emotions or told their stories through rhyming, songs or poetry for one day, I think I would be quite happy (not that I am any good at poetry myself).
This story is a very popular one that a lot of people have read or experienced in some form of way. If you haven't read it, I'd recommend it if you want to see the fantasy craftsmanship of Tolkien in action. I'd also recommend it because it is such a fantastic and old-fashioned tale that is very heart-warming in the way it is written. I'd think a lot of fantasy lovers out there have probably read it, but if you enjoy fantasy stories and haven't done so, then I suggest reading it at least once because it is such a classic adventure to experience.
I hope this review ignites the story for you and inspires you to read or reread this book! Let me know what you thought of the story or when you first encountered it. I know when I first read it, it inspired me to read more fantasy stories and ignited my love for adventure, so hopefully it does for you too!
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.