Friday, January 9, 2009

The Hobbit

I was born on the fiftieth anniversary of The Hobbit's original publication. That's kind of cool, right? Anyway, I got this seventieth anniversary edition last Christmas complete with the originally intended dust jacket and illustrations by Tokien himself, and getting a nice box set of The Lord of the Rings this Christmas prompted me to actually reread the damn thing. At least one of the previous times I read it a section in the middle was missing from the copy, so taking in the whole story and having it firmer in my mind while del Toro and Jackson prepare to put it on the big screen is nice.

The perspective that Tolkien chose to take with the narration is an interesting one. It's written from the point of view of someone who came along long well after the story happened, telling it as he heard it. There are references to how Hobbits are rarely found nowadays, when they used to be more in the open and friendlier with "big folk". Though in ways the narrator is also omniscient, mentioning frequently what Bilbo is thinking about at various times. Considering that the character later writes the story down himself as an autobiography, and that a discrepency in the first version of the chapter where Bilbo finds the Ring is explained in later works as a lie in his original account, it's not really clear whether we're supposed to be actually reading Bilbo's work or not. Why he would write as if he were a man talking about himself in the third person isn't really apparent, so you really just have to live with it.

Beyond those confusing aspects though, it's a very competent and obviously extremely influential work of fantasy fiction. Bilbo and the other characters move along from unlucky situation to unlucky situation, and as it goes on they gradually go from getting rescued by various helpful outsiders to Bilbo saving himself and the others on his own, and he develops from a timid, normal Hobbit to quite a brave, if slightly unusual hero. It's definitely quicker paced than The Lord of the Rings, and moves through the story swiftly, describing the setting adequately without getting too bogged down. All the different Dwarves seem sort of like a waste of character names, as only a few even seem to have actual distinct personalities and they're generally much more incompetent then we're lead to believe most members of such a proud and industrious race would be. And it could easily have benefited from more Gandalf, but I guess his mysteriousness is part of the fun. There's also quite a bit of singing, pretty much every time they find a place to sit for a few minutes there's a new song with a familiar rhyme scheme. They're not bad poems, but Tolkien probably could have found a better outlet for it. Anyway, The Hobbit is a nice little book but you probably knew that already.

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