I mentioned in my last post that I enjoyed reading The Hobbit by the seashore. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, and felt like I got so much out of it this time through, that I just had to write a blog post on the subject.
I’ve only read The Hobbit two or three times. The first couple of times were many years ago, and I liked the book very much, but it never became one of my favorites. I was always much more interested in The Lord of the Rings, despite The Hobbit being much easier to get through! I picked it up again recently because I wanted to read a good adventure story, something that I could just escape into and enjoy on every level. I became engrossed within the first few pages and spent many more happy hours reading through the rest of the book over the course of a week or so. I had forgotten how good it was; I’d known the recent movies fell far short of the mark, and had been wanting to reread the book so I could see how much they got wrong, but I was surprised by just how much fun it was to read and by how much I got out of the story.
There’s so much in it! Of course there’s the world, which is one of the richest storyworlds ever. You don’t find out quite as much about it in The Hobbit as in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion, but what you do find is still extremely fascinating and easy enough to get lost in. And then there’s the characters. I’ve heard people say that Tolkien’s characters are flat or boring, but I’ve not found this to be so. For the most part they aren’t loud and obvious with their personalities, but they certainly do have unique and interesting personalities (although it is true that many of the Dwarves in The Hobbit aren’t very well developed; not that I can make a fuss over that, seeing as there are so many of them!). Bilbo Baggins especially is a great character. He is the sort of hero that I wish we could see more of in modern books, especially books meant for young people–a very normal person, rather fond of comfort, plain of face, without any obviously outstanding qualities. He doesn’t look heroic, and it’s awhile before he starts acting heroic. What makes him great is his nobleness of character and especially his courage, which come out more and more as the book goes on. It’s inspiring to read about him, because if this fat old hobbit who whines about having to leave home without his handkerchief can go on such an adventure, and be so bold and strong, than surely I can, too. Bilbo shows, in a very believable way, how a normal, everyday person has the potential to be the greatest of heroes. I think that is a major reason why reading The Hobbit is such a wholesome experience.
One thing that I found interesting about The Hobbit as I reread it this most recent time is how many events occur in the story that were not caused by the heroes or by the villain. In most modern writing it’s typical for the events of the story to be driven by the actions of the hero and the villain; usually it starts with something caused directly or indirectly by the villain himself, then continues to the hero’s reaction and its consequences, then back to the villain, and so on and so forth, with typically very little influence from outside forces. If a story isn’t that way, then it can run the risk of seeming random, as if too many unconnected events are occurring around these characters–at least, that’s the conventional wisdom on the subject. Yet in The Hobbit, most of the story’s major events do not happen as a result of what the characters are doing (except insofar as the events wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t gone on their adventure), and it still works quite well as a story. The dragon Smaug isn’t even killed by one of the main characters! He’s killed by this random guy from Laketown who happens to be a good archer. In a modern story it would be almost unforgivable for the big bad monster to be killed by someone so totally unrelated to the main characters. In a modern story it would seem far too fortuitous for the adventuring party to be suddenly rescued by eagles, or to come across such helpful personages as Beorn without doing something pretty tough to earn his help. But I think the reason all this works in The Hobbit is that it’s more like real life. In real life, you have very limited control over the events that take place around you. A good deal of what happens is not very much the result of your actions, or the actions of anyone you might consider an enemy, but the result of other people’s lives crossing yours in unexpected ways. And so it feels very authentic when, after all that struggle, the dragon flies off into the blue and is killed by a random stranger, or when the very old legends about the return of the King Under the Mountain result in a warm welcome for the adventuring party in Laketown. There is a life in Middle-Earth and its characters that causes all sorts of wild events, the same as the life in our Earth and its people does.
To me, The Hobbit seems a very true story. It is an excellent example of how fantasy can be as true as life, or truer. I think it has certainly now earned a place amongst my favorite books!