Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit was first published in Sept 1937, and starting in 1951 changes in it were made to more closely align with The Lord of the Rings which he was writing. Changes continued into 1966, and the edition I read represents the closet to the final form, including Tolkien’s changes and corrections of misprints and errors (whatever that means. Apparently someone was playing Tolkien/god). Anyhoo, I was working with a 1994 printing.
          In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
One of the most recognizable opening lines to a book. It’s simple and unpretentious. It’s not making you feel anything. Think anything. Ask any questions. It’s not evoking feelings. It’s not setting you up for an epic tale. It simply is. And that, I think, is the perfect way to start this unexpected journey.
          This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is the story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing any saying things altogether unexpected. (page 3-4)
This is a favorite description of mine in the book. The Baggins people are a predictable people. They have money and they are straight-laced. But then one Baggins wasn’t. The description, both the writing and the content, are so matter-of-fact. 

I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. The are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. (4)

Well, now we know we’re stupid and big, and that we, not any of the other folk in the story, are the intended audience. I’m sure somewhere there is a whole slew of theory about the intended audience of The Hobbit, and how this is written in a way that influences how we perceive ourselves and other races. What’s Tolkien saying about man? And about other races? That is something we discussed at book club, although it was so long ago I don’t remember the outcome of the conversation. but we did discussion race and morality and how each is perceived on that scale. Also, importantly, the idea of ancestry. Both ancestry and race would be interesting pursue as themes and motifs. Races and even individual people do not get treated equally throughout the book. One character, say, Thorin, may receive a lot of history, as may his race, while another character may receive none at all. 

I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone. (Gandalf)
I should think so – in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things.  (Bilbo) (6)

I just love this. It made me smile. I have nothing else to say on the matter.

He charged the ranks and knocked their king Golimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment. (17)

You clever man. I would like to know more about golf when Tolkien wrote this: Was it popular? New? Old? What caused him to throw this little bit in there, which the book could certainly do without. Also at book club we discussed the questionable intentions of Gandalf--both as a character toward other characters, and as a literary plot device. You kind of hate him, you know, disappearing at will and then showing up whenever he can save the day. Did he serve a larger purpose than to simply pull them out of bad situations and start the journey? I do not know. 

Now they rode away amid songs of farewell and good speed, with their hearts ready for more adventure … (51)


There were many paths that led up to into those mountains, and many passes over them. But most of the paths were cheats and deceptions and led nowhere or to bad ends; and most of the passes were infested by evil things and dreadful dangers. (52)

The an apt description for a lot of things in life. Kind of reminds me of the Bible verse: “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life; and those who find it are few.”

You know how terrific a really big thunderstorm can be down in the land and in a river-valley; especially at times when two great thunderstorms meet and clash. More terrible still are thunder and lightening in the mountains at night, when storms came up from East and West and make war. The lightning splinters on the peaks, and rocks shiver, and great clashes split the air and go rolling and tumbling into every cave and hollow; and the darkness is filled with overwhelming noise and sudden light. (53)

Another great, relatable description that explains something almost mundane, but in  vivid terms. Also, an interesting comparison between war and storms.

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something (or so Thorin said to the young dwarves). You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after. So it proved on this occasion.  (54)

Another truly Hobbit-like passage: Reading it you know it’s from this book, even if the part that names Thorin is removed. It’s so simple in thought and sentence construction.

The goblins began to sing, or croak, keeping time with the flap of their flat feet on the stone, and shaking their prisoners as well.
Clap! Snap! the black crack!
Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!
And down down to Goblin-town
You go, my lad! (56)

“Murders and elf-friends!” the Great Goblin shouted. “Slash them! Beat them! Bite them! Gnash them! Take them away to dark holes full of snakes, and never let them see the light again!” (60)

Lit nerd moment: totally geeked when I read these passages because they are very reminiscent of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market which is one of my favorite poems and pieces of Victorian literature.

Although I did not take the time to type out the passage, page 67 has the introduction to Gollum. Who, after experiencing in LOTR, was very interesting to meet for the first time, per se. 

“If ever you are passing my way,” said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time.” (262)

Such a different song he was singing than the beginning of the book, but an old-yet-new Bilbo offer indeed.

You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all! (272)

Great thought to end on. Hope everyone gets a chance to read this at some point in life—it’s quick and easy, so there’s no excuse not to! 

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