Aug 06, 07
Read in September, 1989
Because it was meant for both children and adults, its tone is warmer and more easily accessible than the more famous and dense Lord of the Rings that followed. The tone tempts one to read it aloud, belying Tolkien's intent for parents to share it with their children. Despite the intent, it should inspire more mature writers to take care of how their language sounds. The story is magnificent. There are battles, lovely settings, feats of bravery without a Conan or Arthurian hero, morally-enforcing character growth, and one of the best endings in English literature. I don't care what you tell me about Lord of the Rings: this is a better ending. Not to spoil it for the fifteen people who don't how it ends, but everyone ought to have learned by now that a conflict doesn't end after some villain is slain. In fact, it usually a lot stickier and worse after that. But building to that curious end is a wonderful journey, speckled with the most bizarre creatures and problems, that are never too sugary or bleak - in fact Tolkien does a great job of giving the characters a kick in the butt when they have it too good, and of reminding readers of the futility of giving in to hopelessness when things seem impossible.
This book is particularly important to me, as it was crucial to getting me over my A.D.D. Throughout my childhood I couldn't focus enough to read more than very small, very short illustrated books. I relied mostly on comics to build my vocabulary. After Rankin and Bass' wonderful cartoon adaptation of the book (and after pretending to be Gandalf in my backyard for a few weeks), I was hard set on reading the book. My parents gave it to me for my birthday, in print and audio. I did my best to read it every day, and listened to it every night as I fell asleep. Never have I been so overcome with admiration or love for characters, from the brave, tiny Bilbo, to the grand, powerful Gandalf, to the threatening, gigantic Smaug. Along with a couple of books by Mark Twain, this instilled a love of storytelling in me that has never gone away. It made me want to be a reader, a writer and a hero - not bad for a kid's book from another country.