Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book: The Hobbit

Book time! Books were really my very introduction to the less-than-cool and the geeky, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit was one of the very first of those introductions.

I was first introduced to The Hobbit by my father when I was very small (as in when I was somewhere in the vicinity of three years old). Now, I know that The Hobbit is a kids' book, but most people wouldn't expect it to be read to a child as young as three! Nevertheless, The Hobbit was one of two somewhat-advanced stories I fell in love with and ended up repeatedly requesting. The other one was Beowulf, translated into English, of course, and edited slightly for the consumption of a small child, but still remarkably close to the original text. in case you're wondering, yes, my father was an English major, and he felt it was important that the stories he and my mom read to me were not just simple picture books, but real books with complex ideas and plots. While some might think this a little crazy, I think that it was an excellent idea, as it got me reading and deeply interested in books at a very early age, and ended up exposing me to an incredible variety of literature, from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Dickens and Tolkien.

Being a small child, I had no idea that these stories were anything but wildly interesting, completely engrossing tales that could transport my mind to far-off worlds filled with magic and monsters. I begged my dad to read The Hobbit so often that he ended up with vast chunks of the book committed to memory through the sheer force of my repetitive requests. When I was in middle school, I was delighted to acquire my own copy of the book and give my father's battered paperback a well-deserved rest. It's a copy I still have today, and one of the all-too-few books I squeezed into the car with me when I left for college in a distant state.

I'm in my twenties now, but I still enjoy occasionally curling up with this book. The language is simple enough for children to understand (which makes sense, since it was written as a children's book), and the violence isn't graphic, but the story is still deeply engaging and entertaining for all ages.

The Hobbit is the story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit, who had been just fine living a quiet, unobtrusive life until Gandalf the wizard saw fit to give him a little nudge into adventure by getting him involved with a party of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their lost treasure from the dragon Smaug. Bilbo, quite against hobbit social norms and what he would have thought to be his own better judgment, ends up going on this quest to the Lonely Mountain as a burglar, tasked with helping to steal back the dwarven riches. Along the way, he and his dwarven companions get into and out of various scrapes with a wide variety of beasties, including trolls, goblins, wolves, spiders, and elves.

Although he starts out as a bit of a bungling burglar, the discovery of a certain magical ring in the heart of the Misty Mountains that makes him turn invisible is a turning point both in Bilbo's career as a burglar and in his confidence in his abilities as a member of the quest. Eventually, the dwarves come to rely on Bilbo's expertise, his magical ring, and his ability to come up with plans to get them out of trouble, and he repays them by saving their lives and getting them on their way again multiple times.

I won't spoil the ending (though if you're familiar with The Lord of the Rings you probably already know), but suffice to say that the ending is a satisfying one, and you'll turn the last page with a smile on your face.

Although many people shy from reading The Hobbit because it's a kids' book and/or they think it will be boring, I would definitely encourage anyone to at least give it a whirl. I know that not everything is everybody's cup of tea, but I love this book, and I know that some people will love it too. Heck, some people loved it enough to turn it into a currently-in-production major motion picture. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they loved it enough to stick as close to the original story as is feasible (and keep the original characters to a minimum, please!). After all, if someone put in a lot of time and money into putting it on the big screen, why change what was good enough to get it there?

Anyway, I'm going to head off the rant right now before it goes anywhere and just suggest that you pick up The Hobbit from your local library and give it a whirl. If you're a fan of fantasy adventures with engaging characters and an attention-keeping plot, you might end up liking The Hobbit just as much as I do.

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