film version of The Hobbit is coming out later this month. Well, the first of three planned movies, and while I am a little wary of the decision to split The Hobbit into three separate films, I am still excited over more of the Lord of the Rings universe being brought to the silver screen. I also decided that this was an opportune time to take another look at the fantasy classic.
I actually have many fond memories of The Hobbit, because when I was much younger my mama read The Hobbit to me, along with other books like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, and The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Along with inspiring a life-long love of reading, The Hobbit was responsible for my eventual decision to read The Lord of the Rings on my own and a continuing interest in the fantasy genre. Looking back at The Hobbit I find it is still an excellent fantasy book but has an incredible difference in tone from Lord of the Rings.
First, I want to provide a little bit of background information for my readers about the origins of The Hobbit, which is just one part of Tolkien's vast body of work. The Hobbit is actually Tolkien's first published book and was the first tantalizing glimpse into the world that would become Middle Earth. The first edition of The Hobbit was published in 1937 and was received with great critical acclaim. Tolkien was asked almost immediately for a sequel and began working on the text which would become The Silmarilion and The Lord of the Rings, although The Lord of the Rings would not be published until the 1950's, and would literally create the modern fantasy genre. In a way, The Hobbit is an important harbinger of an era that would eventually bring us Dungeons and Dragons and the wonderful world of Discworld.
As I mentioned earlier, when I mentally compared The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings there was a striking difference in tone between the two works. An important thing to remember about The Hobbit is that it was written as a children's book and has a much lower reading level than The Lord of the Rings. So while Lord of the Rings is this vast, sprawling epic that includes numerous countries and battles between large armies, The Hobbit is (mostly) a story of Bilbo and thirteen dwarves going on a treasure hunt and the various challenges they encounter along the way. In addition, the stakes are much, much lower in The Hobbit than they are in The Lord of Rings. If Frodo fails in his quest, then all of Middle Earth is covered in darkness and ruled by Sauron. If Bilbo fails in his quest, then Thorin and Company just don't get their gold back. It simply isn't set on the same scale. Of course, this should not be inferred to mean that The Hobbit isn't as good, because it still is an excellent fantasy novel, but it was a little jarring to go back to a much smaller scope.
If you haven't read The Hobbit by now, I'd definitely suggest you read it before going into the first movie this month. It's a much easier read than The Lord of the Rings and you won't have to wait until 2014 to see how it all ends. If you're a parent with young-ish children this is also a great book to read together and hopefully will spark a love of fantasy in future generations as it has in its seventy-five years of existence. And remember, always be careful around dragons, even if they appear to be asleep.