Back in high school, as an avid D&D player, I was pleasantly surprised to find my dad's copies of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I wanted to read the latter and figured I should start in the beginning. I remember quickly deciding it was too childish and unfortunately giving up not just this book, but Tolkien altogether. Well I've grown up a lot and have read a lot of Fantasy in the past few years, so it's about time I gave this series another shot.
Unfortunately I find all my old objections to be not only justified, but clarified. The Hobbit is poorly plotted, poorly written, there is not a single likable character, and deus ex machina is employed to such a degree that I would have never believed possible. Even the one single real triumph in the book is made by a character that no one cares about, and never have I seen such literal use of the term "a little birdie told me", particularly in such a way that ruins what little excitement this terrible book offered.
The only three reasons I can imagine for its popularity are:
1) Nostalgia (how many Saturday morning cartoons have been proven to be truly awful when viewed again through adult eyes?)
2) Because most people reading it have very little experience with High Fantasy, and so the worldbuilding, races, magic, etc. are interesting enough to counteract the awful story
3) Because of its relation to Lord of the Rings, which I understand to be much more of a mature piece of writing
Now that I have finally begun The Fellowship of the Ring, I can see that The Hobbit really is the proper first chapter of that tale, which is a shame because they are so drastically different in style. On the bright side, Gandalf repeats so much of the story in the first few chapters of that book that reading this is probably entirely unnecessary to enjoy that work.