Book Review: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien


Many of you reading this have probably already read The Hobbit, if not recently, then at least way back in grade school.  Many of you also probably loved it.  Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to be one of those adoring fans, I can not include myself as one of the many.  Please read on further if you’d like to read to my take on this children’s classic. 

I refused to go see The Hobbit until I had read the book. I know, I know, I’ve had 20 something odd years to check that book off my list.  But growing up classics like the Hobbit always took a backseat to Babysitter’s Club, Goosebumps, and then Fear Street.  So sue me.  Anyway, in general, I insist on reading books before seeing the movie because I get bored if I try to do it the other way around.  Trust me, I made that mistake already with Lord of the Rings.  I’ve tried to start them I don’t know how many times, but then I think, well… I already know what happens, and I could watch all three movies in a fraction of the time it is going to take me to finish these.  So then the books get set aside, and I have to ashamedly hang my head in response to the disgusted looks on peoples’ faces when I tell them, “No – I haven’t read the books.  Just seen the movies…”  I can’t judge these literary snobs silently labeling me “one of those people” too harshly, but I would much rather be the one pointing fingers, not the other way around!  And so, I finally got around to reading The Hobbit, the book that kept getting pushed to the end of my reading list for I don’t know how many years.  And I must say, the whole shebang was rather anticlimactic for a 20-year buildup.

I was expecting brilliance, and fireworks, and to fall in love with the characters the same way I often daydreamed about canoodling with Samwise the Brave – the pure-hearted, golden curled, harry footed hobbit who captured my heart in the Lord of the Rings (on screen version of course).  But none of that was true.  Although I appreciated Tolkien’s fun-loving writing style, it wasn’t enough to sustain my interest in an otherwise lackluster tale.  Perhaps if I had been 12 when I read this (which I suppose is the target audience), I would have found the tale more engrossing.  And perhaps expecting the complex and richly detailed journey borne out of LOTR was just plain unrealistic to expect from a children’s book.  But alas, expect it I did.  My disappointment in the book, however, does not make me any less excited to see the on screen adaptation.  Be that as it may, I feel like the movie people are going to be grasping at straws to turn this very brief tale into a three-parter.  Hopefully they use the extra screen time to fill in the gaps in the journey that were in my opinion underdeveloped or even blatantly lacking.  Of course, this means they will have to take perhaps a few more creative liberties than they did with the Lord of the Rings series, which I don’t necessarily mind.

I think the story of The Hobbit is a mostly good one, although, like I said before, one that could have been a bit more detailed.  However, there were several things I wish had been done differently.  First, the overall tone of the book was a bit too childish for my liking.  Every so often, a scene would randomly be interjected with a cutesy rhyming song that the characters would sing.  All I could keep thinking about is when TV shows decide to do musical episodes, and they are always incredibly bizarre and in my opinion more than a little off-putting.  At least the songs in this book did convey information, and weren’t just meaningless singsongy rhymes, but I still could have done without them.  Another thing I disliked was just how little the characters matched how I had come to know their kind during LOTR.  For instance, in The Hobbit, the dwarves were silly, Gandalf was sillier, the hobbits were sillier still, and the elves were the silliest!  Sure, Gandalf was one for a practical joke here and there during the LOTR, but he still was incredibly wizened and “with it.”  In this rendition, he seemed downright ridiculous and quite frankly a bit off his rocker.  Also, the elves were pretty serious in LOTR, and in this book they are practically giddy school children.  I know it may be unfair to compare The Hobbit and LOTR, after all, they were written for different audiences and if anything, The Hobbit was written first so I should be faulting LOTR for not being overly consistent with it, not the other way around.  But still… I just couldn’t get past the dissimilarities.  Finally, the book just felt rushed in my opinion.  I mean, certain scenes were rather well fleshed out, but then all of the sudden in the blink of an eye the characters are somewhere new, with little explanation as to how they got there.

I will concede that maybe I have been a bit too hard on The Hobbit.  It was, after all, a mostly enjoyable (albeit rather forgettable) tale, but in this case I think I am going to like the movie better.  Bring it on Peter Jackson.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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