Alazzar's Reviews > The Hobbit

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
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Feb 15, 2012

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Read from January 31 to February 14, 2012 — I own a copy

When I saw the movie trailer for The Hobbit, I realized it had been probably a decade (or more) since last I read the book. I decided that was something that needed to be fixed.

Unfortunately, things weren't as good as I remembered.

Don’t get me wrong—the world of Middle-earth and everything that happens within it still makes for some of the best fantasy stuff around. The content is great. The mythology is excellent. But I realized with this reading that Tolkien seems to be like Lovecraft, in that his ideas outshine his writing ability (by quite a fair amount).

Tolkien’s prose sort of bothered me. My chief complaint was that he takes a very long time to get very little information across. (And, being the die-hard Roger Zelazny fan I am, I’m used to the exact opposite of that.) Also, The Hobbit is written very much like a children’s book, which is a characteristic I’d forgotten about; the voice sounds like it’s intended for kids, which makes it feel somewhat “dumbed down” to an adult reader.

So, the prose wasn’t my favorite. The story was still good and all, but I wish it had been written in a different voice.

Of course, that’s not to say I had no complaints about the story-component of the book. For the first half or so of the reading experience (up until Mirkwood, really), our “hero” never does anything but stumble into a situation that someone else helps him out of. (Gandalf, Eagles, Beorn, etc.) He does start to show some courage later on, though he still doesn't seem terribly heroic, because it’s much easier to be courageous when you’re invisible.

Also, Bilbo is a bit of a whiny asshole. A lot of times when Thorin asked him to do something (you know, something that would also save Bilbo’s skin, not just the dwarves’), Bilbo would point out that he’d already done a lot of the work and it was someone else’s turn to get stuff done. I’ll admit that he does have a bit of a point (he and his Ring did get the dwarves out of a lot of sticky situations), but at the same time, I feel like real heroes don’t try and pass the responsibility onto someone else just because they’ve “already done enough.”

My last complaint is how things ended with Smaug. Spoiler time:

(view spoiler)

All that being said, I’ll repeat my initial thoughts and say that the ideas behind this story are great. Tolkien created a world that changed fantasy as we know it, and for that, we should all be thankful. The Hobbit was a decent book (and probably a great book for children), and there’s a chance I’ll read it again some day, but I’ve got a feeling that once the movie comes out, that’ll be my go-to source of halfling tales.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Marty Merrill you make a some fair points. i have some counterpoints:

1) to your claim that "bilbo is a whiny asshole" i say this: first of all, i disagree that he's an asshole. i don't think any of his actions in the story were very rude, assholish, dickish, etc. quite the contrary. secondly, you're right- he's completely whiny, but that's his character. he's very proper, likes things just so, values politeness, cleanness, neatness, etc. also, those dwarves have several moments of ungratefulness in the story where they completely take bilbo for granted. wouldn't you be feeling a bit frustrated if you were so dissed? i find bilbo completely charming.

2) tolkien takes a long time to say very little. this is so true, but i personally love his language. during long (some people would say "useless") paragraphs of deep description i find so many beautifully-written sentences that i need to read again.

3) being an educator of youths, i say without question that this book can be read by very few of them. it's very difficult reading (not just for my 3rd graders, which is nearly impossible, but for older or advanced students as well. compare tolkien to some actual children's literature like c.s. lewis (talk about dumbed down) and i think you'll see that the hobbit is far too advanced to be labeled as a "children's book"

Alazzar 1) Okay, "asshole" was probably the wrong word there. But there are a few times where Bilbo's whining does come off as a bit . . . I don't know . . . dickish. (Probably still the wrong word, but whatever.) I guess I'm saying this more because of the voice I'm picturing than the actual context of Bilbo's words, so that may be the problem.

And yes, you're absolutely right--Bilbo gets crapped on by the dwarves. Like I said in my review, he ends up doing a lot of the work, and I wouldn't want to be treated the way he did either. But the other thing I pointed out was that I feel like real heroes (i.e., people made of greater stuff than I am) wouldn't complain about having to do stuff that will save them and their friends. I dunno--there were just a few lines of dialogue where it felt like Bilbo was saying he'd rather just sit down, cross his arms and let death come than have to do any more work. They were rare instances, but they happened enough for me to take notice.

2) I think this is gonna have to be an agree/disagree point. I've definitely read lines that I've had to go back and read again because I thought the imagery was gorgeous, but none of 'em were written by Tolkien. Sorry, Mard--to each his own!

3) I'll have to take your word on this one, 'cause you're the expert here. Although the Wiki Gods seem to think it's a children's book, those FOOLS! (Of a Took.)

Marty Merrill a theme in the book is that sometimes you get heroes from unexpected places. that's the whole idea of having bilbo be the hero. sometimes the hero doesn't even realize he's a hero. in bilbo's case, he's the almost-unwilling hero. also, bilbo's constant complaints (usually made in his head) humanize him and make the character more identifiable for the reader.


and you're right, we're just talking opinions here.

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