J.R.R. Tolkien & ‘The Hobbit’

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the world’s favourite novels. Learn about the inspiration behind Bilbo Baggins and his adventures, find out about the hardships Tolkien endured before he became a writer, and enter the world of the Inklings and literary friendships.

Come with me on a fabulous reading journey through 2020. Together we will explore a thought-provoking selection of 19th and 20th Century classics. For each novel you will receive an illustrated monograph packed full of intriguing stories about the author behind the book, explaining its themes, tempting you with film versions to watch, and challenging you with discussion questions.

I love to share my passion for great literature. Please consider joining me in this literary exploration.

My first experience of this novel was the best possible! My mother had had the book recommended to her by friends, so she went out and bought a copy, and one summer holiday I lay with my brother and sister on my parents’ bed, and she began to read. We were all entranced. I did not read the book again until I had children of my own. Then, they too lay across the big bed and listened to the adventures of Bilbo and the dwarves, Gandalf and the terrible Smaug.

Recently, when suffering from a bad cold, I read the novel again. As I lay on the sofa, I was once again entranced by the story. I didn’t want to put this book down!

Later, it was interesting to ponder on what I remembered most clearly and passages I had forgotten. What really struck me was the brilliance of the storytelling. Tolkien grabs reader attention with his first line, keeps up the pace all the way through, mingles fear, comfort, suspense and riches in a fabulous mixture, and gives us a story that is memorable and satisfying.

“For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. … The Hobbit … will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.”
– C. S. Lewis
Review published in the Times Literary Supplement, 2 October 1937, 714.

The Hobbit lacks what I usually look for in a book – an interesting and developing heroine, a magnetic hero, realistic dialogue about human concerns, a recognisable setting, and a satisfactory romantic conclusion. And yet, in spite of these lacks, I do really love this book and have never found the same appeal in The Lord of the Rings.

So, it’s hard to pin down the appeal of The Hobbit. It’s the tale of a strange-looking middle-aged creature with hairy feet. There’s no romance, and there are encounters with beings that do not actually exist. It was written for children, but is sophisticated enough for an adult reader. It contains deaths and violence. What do we relate to as we read it? Do we all share Bilbo’s love of an easy life at home, yet have lurking within us the desire for strange adventures? Does the book make us discover our own inner-Hobbit?

The story is a brilliant balance between the real and the unreal, the known and unknown. Tolkien mixes the mundane and the mythical, satisfying our unfulfilled wishes as he does so. What child has not longed for the power to be invisible (as J.K. Rowling so well knew when she gave Harry Potter an invisibility cloak). We are given a dragon, treasure and rivers that send you into deep sleep, yet we also have seed cake, pies, and pocket handkerchiefs.

It is also a novel that makes you appreciate ‘Home’. Reading it makes you want to go to the pantry and see what delicious things might be lurking there; it makes you want to curl up at a fireside and stay there until the tale is finished; and it makes you acknowledge the places that mean much to you. Most of us love to travel, but Bilbo so well expresses the power of home that draws us all: “I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing.

No wonder The Hobbit has become a classic.

You probably haven’t read The Hobbit since you were a child and may not have had children to read it to. Give yourself a treat and read this fabulous story again, discover its riches as an adult reader and delight in a journey of magic, dragons and treasure. Will you join me? Leave a comment.

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Featured image credit- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit. Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0903624/

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