Matt's Reviews > The Hobbit

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
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Aug 26, 08

bookshelves: childrens, fantasy
Recommended for: Children, parents, all those that stay children in their hearts
Read in August, 1979

Some books are almost impossible to review. If a book is bad, how easily can we dwell on its flaws! But if the book is good, how do you give any recommendation that is equal the book? Unless you are an author of equal worth to the one whose work you review, what powers of prose and observation are you likely to have to fitly adorn the work?

'The Hobbit' is at one level simply a charming adventure story, perhaps one of the most charming and most adventurous ever told. There, see how simple that was? If you haven't read it, you should, because it is quite enjoyable. At some level, there is little more to say. Enjoy the story as the simple entertainment it was meant to be. Read it to your children and luxuriate in the excitement and joy that shines from their faces. That's enough.

But if it was only simple entertainment, I do not think that it would be anything more than just a good book. Instead, this simple children's story resonates and fascinates. It teases and hints at something larger and grander, and it instructs and lectures as from one of the most subtle intellects without ever feeling like it is instructing, lecturing or being condescending.

At its heart, the complaint I opened the review with is just a variation on one of the many nuanced observations Tolkien makes in 'The Hobbit' when he complains that a story of a good time is always too quickly told, but a story of evil times often requires a great many words to cover the events thereof. How often has that idea fascinated me.

Consider also how the story opens, with Bilbo's breezy unreflective manners which are polite in form but not in spirit, and Gandalf's continual meditation on the meaning of 'Good morning.’ How much insight is concealed within Gandalf's gentle humor! How often do we find ourselves, like Bilbo, saying something we don't really mean and using words to mean something very unlike their plain meaning! How often do we find ourselves saying, "I don't mean to be rude, but...", when in fact we mean, "I very much mean to be rude, and here it comes!" If we did not mean to be rude, surely we wouldn't say what we say. Instead we mean, "I'm going to be rude but I don't want you to think I'm someone who is normally rude...", or "I'm going to put myself forward, but I don't want you to think of me as someone who is normally so arrogant...", or even, "I'm going to be rude, but I don't want to think of myself as someone who is rude, so I'm going to pretend I'm not being rude..."

I think that is what makes this more than just a good book, but a great one. Tolkien is able to gently skewer us for our all too human failings, and he does so without adopting any of the cynicism or self-loathing so common with those that seek out to skewer humanity for its so evident failings.

We fantasize about heroes which are strong and comely of form, and we have for as long as we've had recorded literature. Our comic books are filled with those neo-pagan mythic heroes whose exaggerated human virtues always amount to, whatever else may be true of them, 'beats people up good'. These modern Ajaxs, Helens and Achilles dominate the box office, and I would imagine dominate our internal most private fantasy lives as well. Oh sure, the superhero of our fantasy might have superhuman ethics to go along with his superhuman ability to kick butt, attract the opposite sex, and enforce their will upon others, but it is always attached to and ultimately secondary to our fantasy of power and virility. How different is Tolkien's protagonist from Heracles, Lancelot, Beowulf, or Batman - short, small, mundane, and weak. Of all the principal characters of the story, he possesses probably the least of that quintessential heroic attribute - martial prowess.

And yet, he is not actually merely an 'average Joe'. Bilbo is just as much an exaggerated idealized hero as Heracles, it's just that those attributes in which Bilbo is almost transcendently inhuman isn't the sort of attributes we normally fantasize about having ourselves. Bilbo is gentle. He is simple. He is humble. Power and wealth have little attraction for him. He is kind. He takes less than his share, and that that he takes he gives away. He is a peacemaker. Though wrongly imprisoned, he bears no grudge and desires no vengeance for the wrongs done to him. Rather he apologizes for stealing food, and offers to repay in recompense far more than he took. Though mistreated, he harbors no enmity. He never puts himself forward, but he never shirks when others do.

How often do we fantasize about being this different sort of hero, and yet how much better we would be if we did? How much better off would we be if we, like Thorin could declare in our hearts, "There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." How often is it that we hunger after all the wrong things? What profit would we really have if we had in great measure the power to 'beat people up good'? What real use could we put it too? How much better off would we be individually and as a people if we most desired to be graced with Bilbo's virtues, rather than Achilles speed, strength, and skill with arms? How much less mature does this mere children's book of a well lit-world cause our darker fantasies to seem?

Now, I admit I am biased in my review. I read this book 36 times before the age of 16. I broke the spines of three copies of it with continual reading. Yet in my defense I will say that I'm considered only a moderate fan of the book by many. I've known several devotees of the book who, like the protagonist of Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451', can recite whole chapters from memory - ensuring that this would be one of the few books that would survive the sudden destruction of all the world's technology if only the world's story tellers survived. If you are inclined to think no book can be that good, and that my review overhypes it, so much the better. Go in with low expectations so as to be certain that they will be met or exceeded. Forget all I have said save that, "If you haven't read it, you should, because it is quite enjoyable."
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message 1: by Jon (new) - added it

Jon Matt, did you really read The Hobbit thirty-six times before you were sixteen! Absolutely amazing! I liked The Hobbit but I don't think I've read it more than a half dozen times.

I have read and re-read other portions of The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion more times than I can count or accurately remember.



Matt Seriously. I had no life. Also, I grew up in a somewhat isolated environment without alot of reading options and with little oppurtunity to find options. Also, I can read a book like the hobbit in a bit under 3 hours. So, those books I enjoyed I tended to read over and over again.

I've lost count on times I've read The Hobbit, but it can't be more than a half dozen more than 36. I haven't read it much in the last 15 years or so. I used to have a reasonably accurate count on 'The Lord of the Rings' (16), but I won't vouch for that number except to say 'more than 16 times' now.

Believe me, that's not really considered particularly obsessive within the community. When the question came up on the Tolkien forums, my answers were somewhat typical and alot of people averred that they'd read it 70 times or more. And I've literally heard people recite the entire first chapter and long portions from anywhere else in the book you question them on (as well as sing every song from LotR), so I can well believe them.

This would be more sad than anything else, but parts of the books are so subtle I don't really trust the opinion of anyone who hasn't read either book at least five times. New readers generally completely miss any of the books themes, tend to misjudge alot of the characters (Sam and Frodo especially), and tend not to see through the first layer of Tolkien's meaning. For example, when you get to the point were when Gollum says, 'Sneaking', it's not funny any more because it breaks your heart, then I think you are a mature Tolkien reader.


Alpinepath Hi, I really enjoyed reading your review. In fact, I'll be more like me and say I loved it -- though I'm not sure I loved the book. The fact is, I read it too long ago to even really recall the plot. All I can remember is that I did quite enjoy it when I first read it, but that is all. The reason I gave it a three is 'cause the first and last time I read it was more than ten years ago, and as I don't remember it much and am not sure how much I'd like it now, three seemed the most fair to me. That might sound silly, but it seemed reasonable to me at the time.

Just to comment on your review: What you said about the whole rude thing is superb. (I'm just in a mood to be complimentary, so bear with me.) I just find that so worth saving/remembering. That is exactly how I've felt about the matter, yet I've never given much thought to it before, and I've never heard it spoken of by anyone else either. It just satisfies me when somebody points out contradictions and inconsistencies in people and things which others generally miss, or at least don't think about. It's very much in line with my personal belief: that truth shines. Well, sometimes truth is ugly, but to me, even in its greatest ugliness the darkest truth is still a beam of light -- that is, if it serves to lead you towards the one greatest Truth; and every truth uncovered can be a step closer. Although, one may start at the other end: start with the one Truth and work towards all other, smaller truths. I far prefer the dark truths in and of life than the brightest illusions that can be. But I sense I'm near being sidetracked... so back to your review!

"How often is it that we hunger after all the wrong things?"

That is such a good question. Or should I say, a correct statement.

There are some other memorable lines here which I think I'm gonna remember and possibly quote at some others sometime (not as my own, of course, if I do).

"How often do we fantasize about being this different sort of hero, and yet how much better we would be if we did?"

"How much better off would we be individually and as a people if we most desired to be graced with Bilbo's virtues, rather than Achilles speed, strength, and skill with arms?"

"How much less mature does this mere children's book of a well lit-world cause our darker fantasies to seem?"

Bravo.

"What profit would we really have if we had in great measure the power to 'beat people up good'? What real use could we put it too?"

We can see what use it's being put to and it aint pretty at all. The people who possess and exercise such power over the rest seem to feel they profit much. THEIR use of it is in harvesting much wealth for themselves, I think. (And many inflict actual violence on others to do it, too. Though in most cases, the methods they employ are less visible and more indirect.) This sad, bleak world is testimony to that greed. Well, everyone is responsible in part, but some more than others it seems.

Recite whole chapters! Unless they have photographic memory or deliberately tried to memorise it (though I suppose that'd still be kinda impressive), if it's the "almost" natural result of many readings, I do stand amazed. No, forget, reciting. I'm amazed simply by the fact that anyone could have read any book 30+ times -- unless they were forced. That is, apart from the Bible, even which I don't think I have read that many times. As a whole anyhow. Some books in it I might have...or not. I have no idea, as I never counted. I almost envy your passion and perseverance (though you might not call it that from your point of view). I don't think I have the patience or concentration to read the same thing that many times, no matter how much I first liked it. Even the best of books usually get dull after several times of re-reading (for most people, from what I know), and I normally don't read anything more than twice or three times at the most unless I truly love it, and even that has been rare in recent years.

I guess my mentality is that I'd rather spend that time on reading something new. Another reason is that a second reading can at times spoil the original enjoyment you got out of a book, as was the case with the Twilight books for me, for example. I didn't find it as good the second time as the first time I read them, and it ended up only dampening my enthusiasm for the series. (Though I wasn't one of the huge fans in the first place.) Unless a book is really spectacular, I'd rather just read it once and keep my first pleasant experience of it intact, rather than risk cancelling it out (as happens when the second time doesn't live up to the first), as I find that most don't improve on subsequent readings. Merely not improving would be fine; they tend to take away some of the spark the story initially had. But I suppose that usually happens with books that lack depth, or are not entertaining enough. For me, normally both have to be present to make it worth repeating.

Then again, I can also understand the other point of view, which is yours, and that you can totally suck out the spirit of a book without end and expand and fill yourself with it, enjoying it over and over. That is an idea I kind of envy, at the moment anyhow, but don't feel I have the leisure or patience to be trying -- also at this moment. And there isn't such a book for me, either. Few books inspire me in that direction, other than wuxia novels, but there are too many cool new ones I still haven't read, to be re-reading ones I already have. By the way, I almost feel I should be ashamed commenting here, beside people who have read the book a dozen times or more, since I've read The Hobbit only once. (Or it might have been twice.)

I wish I had a book I'd wanna read 36 times -- apart from the Bible. Actually, there is one author who I'd want to, and that would be Oswald Chambers. I can't imagine there being any fictional work I'd read that many times, though.

Yes, we need more Bilbo-like people, don't we. I like how you describe him.

"heroes whose exaggerated human virtues always amounts to, whatever else may be true of them, 'beats people up good"

That is well said and I agree with your sentiments. But I'm afraid that my own story which I'm working on is in that vein. Though at least my characters beat up only bad people. :) I'm not writing with any moral or philosophical purpose in mind, however -- the lack of which I often lament in modern works, ironically enough -- but I'm merely attempting to portray my inner world and feel no explanations need go with that. If mine flops in regards to having the kind of depth as you have mentioned, I guess that would simply be speaking of myself.

I'll say this for your review: The Hobbit was a book I didn't plan on reading again, in the near future neway, but you have made me reconsider. Maybe I'll wanna write a review of it then myself, if I choose to re-read it.

And I certainly think you have the powers of prose and observation that are fitting.


Alpinepath Matt wrote: "Seriously. I had no life. Also, I grew up in a somewhat isolated environment without alot of reading options and with little oppurtunity to find options. Also, I can read a book like the hobbit ..."

"For example, when you get to the point were when Gollum says, 'Sneaking', it's not funny any more because it breaks your heart, then I think you are a mature Tolkien reader."

Hmmm, I can't recall the context that was said in, but I do remember that I still found some part or the other about Gollum a bit heartbreaking -- even though I don't think myself "a mature Tolkien reader", esp. next to people like you. I only read it a few times (and it used to surprise me a bit that this story actually made me), and it was during my first or second reading of LOTR. But then, I usually look for layers of meaning out of habit and try not to miss themes, 'cause depth and insight often add enjoyment to the whole thing. I feel that missing meanings is almost a crime if not an offence (to the writer if not to the writing itself), or it's depriving yourself at least.

I can't even get my head around 70.

Neway, I came on here just to find out what's new and popular, or worth trying, but I feel like adding you as a friend. And I'll probably be reading more of your reviews.


PS "as well as sing every song from LotR" lol. My goodness!


 ♥♥Mari♥♥ You have not only written a highly insightful review, but a very enjoyable one, as well! I don't know if you've ever authored any books, but this sounds like the beginnings of a fabulous exegesis of "The Hobbit"!

Your review totally fascinated and enthralled me! I have yet to post a review of this book, but now I might never do so... I don't think mine would even come close to the standard yours has set! WAY TO GO, GUY!!


Micheline I definitely agree with everyone else here, you have written an accurate, elegant and thought-provoking review. As an adult first time reader of The Hobbit, I observed some of the themes and nuances you spoke of, but I'm sure others will take a few re-reads to grasp. As for Gollum,I have always found his character sad and heartbreaking from the LOTR books, and being introduced to him in The Hobbit had the same effect. I often wonder however why the ring took him so quickly, while others like Bilbo & Frodo showed incredible resilience to it. But again, these are the wonderings of a beginner ;)

That being said, your review is fitting to the book, and the series as a whole. Well done!


Matt "I often wonder however why the ring took him so quickly, while others like Bilbo & Frodo showed incredible resilience to it."

JRRT addresses this a little bit in 'The Shadow of the Past', but I don't think the text offers a definitive answer.

I think there were probably many cracks that the ring could sneak into, but Smeagol had one of the easiest ones: he seemed naturally inclined to self-pity and to the feeling that he had been wronged. He seemed the sort that was always going around cursing the unfairness of the world. I've discovered the truth of the statement, "There is no evil a man will not do when you tell him he's been wronged."

Gandalf observes that the story of Smeagol/Gollum could have happened to many hobbits, but he also observes that as wretched as Smeagol had become in his own small way he wasn't wholly ruined and completely under the power of darkness. There was still a small part of him that was fighting.

Bilbo and Frodo were also capable of great pity, but they never really indulged this pity on themselves. Above all, when wronged they didn't count themselves the victims and spend their time nursing their wounds and plotting revenge (compare with the Sackville-Baggins). They forgave; even to the extent of sacrificing their own interests to facillitate the reconciliation. Biblo takes the ring and the very first thing he has an oppurtunity to do with the ring is to kill Gollum, who unlike Deagol no doubt deserves it. Instead, he pities Gollum. He looks at Gollum and sees a helpless wretch in need of aid, and not an enemy - even though Gollum himself wants nothing more than to kill him.

Now, I'm not saying that Bilbo's compassion was a perfect defense. Gandalf says that his own weakness would be the temptation to be a moralizing busybody who would force people in to do things for their own good. Gandalf's pride in his own wisdom and moral character would be his undoing. But I think Bilbo's tendency to put others first was a pretty strong defense against the power of the ring, and it forced the ring to use much smaller cracks and much slower methods.


Micheline You're most certainly right, after all thats what sets Bilbo and Frodo apart from the rest, and allows them to become the respective heroes of JRRT's universe. They are neither power hungry or inclined to self pity, the way Gollum was (as you mentioned). And I agree that their capacity for empathy and their kindness both played huge parts in their resiliency to the ring.


Isabella I really enjoyed your review! And I suffer too from that worry 'I've read this too many times, so my opinion has to be a biased one' lol Well, if so, it's a welcome bias, especially when so many of us seem to share it!:) Cheers:)


Jackie I have only read The Hobbit once, about a year and a half ago, but now I think I'm going to have to pick it up again right away. Your review was as enchanting as the book because it helped me to relive all those scenes that captivated me in only my first read. Gandalf's response to "good morning!" is one of my favorite scenes in all that I've ever read! I, too, don't think I could do the justice you've done to this book in a review, it so accurately describes why there's a special place in my heart reserved for Bilbo and his adventure. And what you say about the literary tradition is right--if the apocalypse were tomorrow, and if only one book survived, I'd want it to be this one. Nothing I have read has ever made me feel so positive about the nature of humanity... even if the protagonist is a hobbit. Anyways, thank you for returning me to this book, you've reminded me why some books are just so precious.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Love the review. It says everything I would want to say. 36 times? Really?!


Qining 36 times before age 16?? I love the book but I only read it twice!!! Anyway, I think your review pretty much summons up my feelings


Aoife really liked your review. Makes me want to read it again, but I still have to get through Lord of the Rings!


message 14: by Marie (new) - added it

Marie Yeah, I have the worst time reviewing the mind-blowingly amazing books. It's mostly a lot of fangirling,


bennett. Ugg. How many times have I heard people say that cheesy "you can't review good books" rant. Stop. Just stop.


message 16: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt I don't know, Sir Kittykinz, how many times have you heard that rant? I just googled the phrase, "you can't review good books", and found nothing. Lead me to water so that I may drink.


message 17: by Somerandom (new)

Somerandom What a good review! I just started the Hobbit for the first time! How slow of me, I know!
I particularly like Gandalf so far. I often note how often people say things to me they don't actually mean. I've even made a game of it. All I do is take everything that is said to me in the literal sense. So much fun!


message 18: by Ava (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ava Dohn Your quote of 'evil times' is so true. As are your words implying the stiry's effect upon the heart. For people to read and enjoy they should think of developing relationships with their hearts and minds. The "Hobbit" is a read that can impact thoughts for an extended time. My first read of the book was before middle school. At that time it caused me to determine to find the meanings within the spoken words of family and friends.


Laura I think this is the best book review I have ever read and, considering the fact that "the Hobbit" is my all-time favourite book, that speaks volumes of how on point you were about everything. Your review is, I believe, the only one that truly does the book justice. Thank you for praising and appreciating it so much, and for so very eloquently putting into words why "the Hobbit" is a class all on its own.


message 20: by Mary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mary What a lovely, insightful review! Thanks.


message 21: by Orion (new) - added it

Orion I love you all!


message 22: by Ella (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella Strandberg love this review , it really conects with the book in a deep way.


message 23: by Anne (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anne Schilde I read The Hobbit once when I was 11. It changed me. I've sat back and watched as it changed the whole world since then.


message 24: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt Anne wrote: "I read The Hobbit once when I was 11. It changed me. I've sat back and watched as it changed the whole world since then."

If this was a review, I'd 'like' it.

Yes, I suppose it has. I've been on the front lines of that and seen it, both the good and the bad, playing out like Feanor's doomed and ill-considered invasion. Tolkien welded his stories together from two things he loved very deeply - Northern European pagan myths, and Christ Jesus. It's too things that don't easily hang together, as well he knew.

Since that time, his stories have gained a mythic power of their own - just as the works of craftsmanship within his story like the Rings of Power did. There are now three camps. Those that I think somewhat understand the good professor and his stories and love them. Those that hate them because they understand them and see they are stories which point to Christ. And those that love them, but love them without understanding them, and so desire to reshape the stories into more explicitly pagan myths of the power of swords and violence and superheroes of greater than human stature.

It has been a bitter beautiful story, long in the telling, full of folly and beauty, piety and pride. I'm still in awe of what he accomplished, but I think I understand better why it terrified him now than I did years ago when I only rued that he did not write more.


Chad & Neely Silverman do you like the lord of the rings answer back ASAP


message 26: by Somerandom (new)

Somerandom Matt wrote: "Anne wrote: "I read The Hobbit once when I was 11. It changed me. I've sat back and watched as it changed the whole world since then."

If this was a review, I'd 'like' it.

Yes, I suppose it has...."


Don't forget that camp who denounce it as Satanic! Granted hardly anyone, let alone other Christians, take them seriously. They do often bring hilarity with them, though. Or pathetic-ness whichever way you wish to view it.


message 27: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt C&NS: I believe I have on my profile listed as my favorite books only 'The Lord of the Rings'. As such, it seems like a strange question to ask me, much less require that I 'answer back ASAP'. But, yes, since you ask, I profoundly and deeply admire 'The Lord of the Rings'. 'Like' is far too weak of a word.


message 28: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt Somerandom: That camp probably includes to a certain extent Tolkien himself, given the manner with which he began to attack the underpinnings of his fiction near the end of his life once he realized people were taking his fiction seriously. I should be careful about viewing other people unseriously, as comic relief, or as pathetic since one never quite knows whether or not other people are viewing you in the same way. One never learns much of anything if one can't be sympathetic for viewpoints you don't share. I've often found that people who mock others ignorance do so out of ignorance.


message 29: by Somerandom (last edited May 29, 2014 06:15PM) (new)

Somerandom Matt wrote: "Somerandom: That camp probably includes to a certain extent Tolkien himself, given the manner with which he began to attack the underpinnings of his fiction near the end of his life once he realize..."

I only mock them because I'm tried of everything being accused of promoting Satanism. While not a very prominent viewpoint where I live, you certainly hear of it and it gets tiresome. I've listened to their arguments and have no choice but to conclude that they either wish to live in a bubble and are ignorant of literally anything not mentioned in the Bible. Or are so paranoid that literally any symbol outside Christianity is instantly labelled "Demonic" or "Pagan" and that they have way way too much time on their hands.

Perhaps I just have yet to come across a decent well thought out argument in favor of such a view (though I'm going to check out what Tolkien had to say about his work now.) When that happens I am ready and willing to give it a fair chance to see if it can offer me a sympathetic perspective.
Until then, however, I have resigned myself to mocking them.


Chad & Neely Silverman Matt have you ever tried Artemis fowl by Eoin colfer. p.s. i won't answer back ASAP


Chad & Neely Silverman babysitter tonight ): groan


Chad & Neely Silverman Orion why did you say i love you all instead of complimenting Matt on his review


message 33: by Thais (new) - added it

Thais Lasso Thanks for the enlightment, your review convinced me and makes me excited about this book.
This review is one of a profound impact.


Bobby Mitchell I am only fourteen and I am on my fourth time with this book. I like reading The Silmarillian, then The Hobbit, then The Lord of the Rings.


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