The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien


Title:  The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again 
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
Publishing Date: 1937
Format Used: Audiobook by Recorded Books (11 hours)

“This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, 
and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected.” 

Widely beloved (and never out of print) since its first publication in 1937, The Hobbit (along with The Lord of the Rings trilogy that came two decades later) stands tall as one of the most revered of high fantasy literature. From Peter Jackson's blockbuster trilogy film adaptations to board games, video games, theatre adaptations, radio theatre productions, and a graphic novel, The Hobbit and Tolkien's fictional universe of Middle-Earth has been visited and re-visited in the decades since J.R.R. Tolkien first introduced the lovable Biblo Baggins.

C.S. Lewis, a friend of Tolkein's gave a glowing review upon publication, which sums up a lot of my thoughts:"The truth is that in this book a number of good things, never before united, have come together: a fund of humour, an understanding of children, and a happy fusion of the scholar's with the poet's grasp of mythology... "


“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” 

So begins this epic tale. Bilbo Baggins is the reluctant hero of this tale. He is the epitome of a homebody, enjoying his cozy hobbit hole in Bag End of the hobbit-inhabited Shire. Throughout the quest of this novel, he often longs for the comfort of home. Early on (until he finds the magic ring), he seems more like extra baggage than any real help (maybe a hint to his last name?). But he eventually becomes a leader who displays true courage, wisdom, and competence for such a perilous journey. 

But let's back up a bit. Why is Bilbo even on an adventure if he (and generations of Baggins before him) never ventured outside their pastoral surroundings of the Shire? 

Illustration by David Wenzel in his graphic novel edition of The Hobbit

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone.' 
I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” 

Gandalf, a mysterious wizard recommends Bilbo as the perfect addition to a band of thirteen dwarves planning to recapture their hidden treasure, stolen by Smaug the Dragon in their beloved (and very far away) Lonely Mountains. Forced from their homes long ago when the dragon destroyed their kingdom and stole their treasure, the leader of the pack, Thorin Oakenshield is determined to reclaim his treasure and return the dwarves to the mountain of their ancestors. Don't think these are garden gnomes variety of dwarves and definitely not Snow White's dwarves, either. These are scruffy warriors, often grumpy (ok, so maybe some resemblance to one of Snow White's dwarves, haha!).  Gandalf convinces them to hire Bilbo as their burglar (to steal their gold from the dragon). Though initially resistant, Bilbo (probably the most un-burglar inhabitant of Middle-Earth since he is kind, honorable, and honest) eventually acquiesces. Their long journey takes them from nearly being eaten alive by a variety of creatures on repeated occasions (giant trolls and spiders, evil wolves called Wargs, and devilish goblins) to brief respites in the homely, sanctuary-like Rivendell (inhabited by kind High elves), a secluded woodland home of a "skin-changer" (a man named Beorn who can turn into a bear), and Lake-Town (inhabited by humans near the Lonely Mountain, aka Bilbo and the dwarves' final destination) via some very unconventional transportation methods (being crammed into big barrels floating along a river is not my idea of leisurely travel, nor was it theirs). Bilbo plays an vital role in rescuing the dwarves on multiple occasions. At one point, when he falls down in a cave while running from goblins, he stumbles over a ring that belonged to a sickly creature named Gollum. The burglar definitely lives up to his name because he claims the ring as his own, much to Gollum's extreme anger and misery ("my Precious!"). Friendships between the hobbit and the dwarves are tested when the possibility of endless riches beckon them in the dragon's lair, and the adventure culminates to a climax involving five armies for a battle between good and evil.

Illustration by David Wenzel in his graphic novel edition of The Hobbit


I was hesitant at first to read this classic because I thought it would contain wordy descriptions and fantasy elements I was not familiar with. I thought I would get lost in all the world-building and myriad of characters. But I am pleased to say that I had no problems at all with reading it. The Hobbit was written with young readers in mind, which is different than the longer, more complex Lord of the Rings books, which were marketed for the adults who had read The Hobbit two decades before. I enjoyed using the audiobook format, which was narrated by a man who had great voices for all the characters and sang the songs mentioned in the book. It was very well done. I also was aided in visualizing the scenery and the many mythical creature of Middle-Earth by checking out a graphic novel of The Hobbit (illustrated by David Wenzel, whose illustrations I have included in this post) from our public library. The artwork was fantastic and it captured the most important parts of the story, so it was a great accompaniment to the audiobook for me. 

I also checked out the movies, but I will likely only watch certain scenes since A) I have limited time available for movies and these are long ones!  and B) I am a wimp and don't want to see scary trolls and goblins that will surely enter into my dreams.

I am not one to read fantasy literature, but I enjoyed this classic very much. I watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy around the time they first came out, but I had never read any of Tolkien's novels until a few years ago when I was absolutely smitten by his collection of letters to his children in Letters From Father Christmas. Though fantasy literature isn't my typical go-to genre, I thoroughly enjoyed this reading experience,  mainly because of the intricate and creative world-building, character development of Bilbo Baggins, the traveling adventure through beautiful highlands and mountains, and the witty and comedic interchanges between the characters in addition to the sometimes snarky narrator. The plot and dialogue were simple enough for children to understand, and yet there is a wealth of wit and enjoyment for adult readers as well. It was a work of art, and incredibly accessible for almost any reader (ok, maybe not my toddler, but one day!).  

For example, Gandalf is often full of sarcastic quips. After meeting Bilbo for the first time in the first chapter, he is greeted by Bilbo with an innocent "Good morning", to which he replies:
“Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?” 

There are a lot of songs in the story as well, often sung by the dwarves while feasting merrily and looking back at the good ol' times and pump them up for their challenges to come:
“Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold...

There is plenty of action to keep the excitement going, and often Bilbo and the dwarves just barely escape one danger before entering into another:
“Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!” he said, and it became a proverb, though we now say ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.” 

For the avid riddle-decoders, there are several to enjoy, particularly between Bilbo and Gollum during a Riddle Off to the death (if Gollum won, he'd eat Bilbo... no pressure, right?)
“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt,
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills,
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.” 

Illustration by David Wenzel in his graphic novel edition of The Hobbit

Author's Inspiration for The Hobbit
Tolkien started writing The Hobbit in the early 1930s while a professor at Oxford. He was grading some papers and noticed a blank sheet of paper on his desk and the first sentence of the book appeared in his mind, “In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit”.  Influenced by authors like Samuel Rutherford and George MacDonald, as well as Norse mythology (he studied Germanic language, history, and religion), and the old English epic, Beowulf. Personal experience, such as his his service in WWI (battle scenes) and a hiking expedition in the Swiss Alps as a teenager inspired Bilbo's trek across the Misty Mountains. As a young child, he and friends created their own languages, doubtless influencing his later affinity towards scholarly study of languages and even creating his own Elvish language long before The Hobbit was published. I would be remiss to also mention the inspiration of his fellow writing friends of the Inklings, an informal literary discussion group at Oxford University from 1930-1949, of which C.S. Lewis was also a member. These members heard early versions of the story. It was a good thing he had literary friends, because his manuscript of The Hobbit floated around from person to person until it landed into the hands of the head of a publishing house, who then gave it to his ten-year old son to read and write a report on it in exhange for a shilling. Part of his review included this convincing statement:  “This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations and should appeal to all children between the ages of five and nine.  Thanks to that little kid, his dad decided to offer a publishing contract, and the rest is history. A sequel was requested soon after, due to it's immediate success, but it would take Tolkien from The Hobbit's 1937 publication until 1958 for the first of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, to be published. Several changes were made to The Hobbit during later editions to help continuity (such as Gollum's storyline). 

Content rating: PG (I don't agree with the 10-year old above that it's appropriate for 5-9 year olds, but definitely middle-graders and up, due to some descriptive scenes that could be scary for younger readers)
Reading Challenges: Classics Club: 18th book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE and Back to Classics challenge: 3rd of 12 books. See my list HERE