Brad's Reviews > The Hobbit

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1022982
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: faves, fantasy, classic, young-adult, to-my-kids, out-loud, exceeded-my-expectations, the-best
Read 7 times. Last read November 9, 2011 to January 8, 2012.

Finished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.

later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and the intervening years have not been kind to our relationship. I've reread The Lord of the Rings in that time, and been both dazzled and repulsed by Peter Jackson's screen interpretation of them. I revised my intellectual response to Tolkien, if not my feelings, because of the racism inherent in the Trilogy, then I revised it again because of the sexism.

But the Hobbit comes out in the theatres this year, and my kids are HUGE fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman -- Sherlock and Watson on the BBC's Holmes update -- and since they just happen to be playing Smaug and Bilbo Baggins, respectively, I thought it was about time I revisited Middle Earth with my kids, setting aside my Tolkien grievances to awake some non-Potter magic in their hearts.

It was the single best reading aloud experience I've ever had, and I've read many, many books with Të and Loš in their seven years. They loved it like nothing else I've read. Miloš actually wept at one point, (view spoiler) which took me completely by surprise. Brontë adored Fili & Kili, and has drawn some spectacular pictures of Smaug. Even Scoutie toddled her way into the readings once in a while, wanting to be part of the energy and excitement.

Reading the Hobbit aloud was nothing like what I had expected. I expected the read to be a slog. I was thinking of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings prose, that heavily descriptive, pseudo-archaic language that delivers so much weight to the War of the Rings, and I thought it would be impossible to keep my kids interested (though I had to try). Boy, was I wrong.

I remembered that Bilbo was the slightly-veiled narrator, but I assumed he would sound like Tolkien. I always remembered it that way, but it wasn't and he didn't. The narrative and the narration didn't just sound like Bilbo Baggins, it was Bilbo Baggins, with Bilbo often intruding quite literally on the telling (hiding his identity, of course, as any good ring bearer would). It was a conversation between Bilbo and my kids, and I was able to become Bilbo and tell the tale as our little Hobbit rather than as a dad reading to his kids in the winter of their seventh year.

Something marvellous occurred to me during my reading, something I'd missed each time I'd read the book in the past -- and it's the true genius of Tolkien's writing. I have always marvelled at his world building, his linguistic gymnastics, his deep, believable, overwhelming mythologies (even when other issues have frustrated me). I have been blown away by the fierce creativity of Tolkien's mind. But I suddenly realized what a subtle writer he truly was. The Hobbit, you see, is a lie. It is a white lie, perhaps -- an hyperbolous exaggeration by a bit player turning himself into the star -- but it is a lie from beginning to end, and Tolkien wants us to find the lie (and to do that we must be well versed in the Lord of the Rings -- so J.R.R. was busy forcing some deep intertexuality, amongst other brilliant things) and love Mr. Baggins all the more for the lie.

In Lord of the Rings we see an extended and objective vision of four hobbits, each heroic in their own way, each impressive, each foolish and/or weak, each capable of making decisions and driving events, but they are merely part of a much larger whole. They are members of a party of beings who can and do the same things as they. Aragorn is a king in the making; Gandalf the White, née Grey, is the catalyst of action; Boromir is noble and tortured and tragically heroic; Legolas and Gimli and Eomer and Eowyn and Treebeard and Gollum and Faramir and others all have roles to play, all are capable, all are important. But in the Hobbit -- with the exception of Gandalf once in a while -- Bilbo Baggins, or so he tells us, is the only one capable of anything great, and everyone else's great moments, if they have them, depend on him.

He is like no other Hobbit who ever lived. He's also completely full of shit, which makes me love him even more. There's probably a sliver of truth in everything our furry footed unreliable narrator tells us, but whatever that sliver is really doesn't matter because The Hobbit isn't about the truth, it's about the weaving of a tale, and this is the one time that J.R.R. Tolkien achieves that weaving perfectly. The Hobbit is mesmerizing for those who read it and those who have it read to them.

I wonder what the movie will do with Bilbo's attercoppy web of deceit. Will Jackson play it straight, and retell the tale in the same way he told Lord of the Rings (I can't imagine a bigger mistake)? Will it be dour and serious, and will Bilbo's lies be taken as truth? Will the movie be the book, lies and all? Will Jackson somehow tip us off to Bilbo's bullshit? Or will he dig deep into the tale and tell us the Hobbit that really was but never made it onto the page? Will all the events be there, but will the Dwarves be more capable? Will Thorin be more impressive? Will Bard and Beorn and Gandalf be more than deus ex machinas? Will Smaug be more frightening, and will his demise be more his own responsibility and less Bilbo's? Whatever the case, I think Jackson will have a much harder time delivering a satisfying Hobbit, though I bet it will be more loved than his first three.

It doesn't matter what the movie(s) do(es), though. What matters is that for those who take the time to read this with their loved ones, who read to their children or
take a very patient lover and spend some time in a darkish room in your pajamas and really roll the tale out. (This stuff may not be sexy in the strictest sense, but literacy is hot however you slice it, and this is the kind of tale for the telling.) Be the freaking trolls, wield Sting while you shout attercop and slash down your arachnid foes, smoke and steam and lie like Smaug in the ruined halls, squeak and scheme and try to avert a battle of five armies, and fail, but fail in the honesty of smallness,"*
for those who really embrace the telling, The Hobbit will always remain one of the most rewarding literary experiences you can have.

I love this book more now that I ever have before. I hope, with fingers crossed, that a year or two from now, Miloš or Brontë or Scoutie will bring me our tattered old copy of the Hobbit and ask me to read it again. Or, maybe someday, when I am old and dying, one of them will come by the home I am wasting away in and read it to me. That is about the most beautiful way to die I can imagine. And it will be comfortable and cozy in a way that Bilbo would approve.

*stolen with love and respect from Ceridwen's fantastic review. Go see it for yourself.
39 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Hobbit.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Finished Reading
Finished Reading
Finished Reading
Finished Reading
Finished Reading
Finished Reading
March 25, 2008 – Shelved
April 3, 2008 – Shelved as: faves
September 12, 2008 – Shelved as: fantasy
September 14, 2008 – Shelved as: classic
September 14, 2008 – Shelved as: young-adult
November 9, 2011 – Started Reading
November 9, 2011 – Shelved as: out-loud
November 9, 2011 – Shelved as: to-my-kids
January 8, 2012 – Shelved as: exceeded-my-expectations
January 8, 2012 – Shelved as: the-best
January 8, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Eh?Eh! "to-my-kids"!! "out-loud"!! Lucky kids!


Brad I have to be careful not to slip into my Richard Harris Dumbledore impersonation when I am reading Gandalf. I don't have a Sir Ian voice yet. I'm going to have to watch Richard III again and get a handle on it.


message 3: by JP (new)

JP Capili just in time for the movie, which is coming out next year.


Brad Exactly the plan, John Paul.


Barb Lucky kids for sure! I've been trying to find something more "advanced" to read to my son. This might just help with the trauma he suffered when I let him watch the LOTR movie when he was 5.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Aww. Thanks. It's a great book aloud.


Brad You are most welcome.


Daniel This was a beautiful review.


Brad Thanks, Daniel.


message 10: by jo (new)

jo beautiful.


Helen (Helena/Nell) Brilliant review. I'm so glad you loved reading this. I was given the book when I was I think about eight by a favourite adopted aunt. I adored it. I adored it from beginning to end, and I've never forgotten how stunning the experience was. But it came back to me all over again while reading your review which was, for me, 'there and back again'.


message 12: by Brad (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brad Yay! I'm glad to have transported you back to that place, Helen.


Algernon my favorite review of the book on Goodreads: the book is meant to be read aloud to loved ones.


Manny Happy New Year Brad! And what did your kids think of the movie version? I'm afraid I was bitterly disappointed...


message 15: by Ted (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ted Tolkien wants us to find the lie (and to do that we must be well versed in the Lord of the Rings -- so J.R.R. was busy forcing some deep intertexuality, amongst other brilliant things) and love Mr. Baggins all the more for the lie.

Brad, I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Why do we need to be versed in LotR while reading The Hobbit, when Tolkien himself knew little if anything about the former as he wrote the latter?

Right you are about The Hobbit being a read-it-to-your-kids story. The author himself did that very thing, before it was published, I think?


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

Brad To be honest, Ted, and this is probably poor of me considering what I wrote, I don't know much about Tolkien's process. Most of my Tolkien study has been of his early years leading up to WWI. So when it comes to what-he-wrote-in-which-order-and-how I am ill versed. Still, I think that something of what he was doing must have taken root when he was writing the Hobbit, and I imagine (shaky as that is) some part of his consciousness directing what he was doing with the narrative, so that Bilbo's lies and the way his lies situated our views of the other races of Middle Earth were intentional and meant to resonate with the LotRs. And you are right, J.R.R. did, indeed, read it aloud to his children -- an art that seems to be dying these days post Seuss.


message 17: by Ted (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ted Brad wrote: "To be honest, Ted, and this is probably poor of me considering what I wrote, I don't know much about Tolkien's process. Most of my Tolkien study has been of his early years leading up to WWI. So wh..."

Thanks for that thoughtful response Brad, I see what you're getting at. My own guess, which I think is very similar to what you say, is that while writing The Hobbit, naturally that story is in his mind. But he's been doing so much research & thinking & "fantasizing" about Middle Earth for so long that there must have been a world of hazy, half-formed ideas and visions floating around also. The sort of things that sometimes before you go to sleep, or when you're waking up in the morning but not yet ready to rise, swirl around in your brain.


message 18: by Glen (last edited Oct 19, 2017 07:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glen 1. You write beautifully. Your reviews are like short stories. I haven't actually wept yet reading one of your reviews, but I could see it happening.

2. Love the insight about Bilbo's tall tale. I've read that at least 5 times (probably more like 12) and just been so swept up that I never saw it that way. This new point of view is the perfect excuse to read it again! :-)

3. I have a thing about spoilers in reviews and I almost un-followed you when you said your son "actually wept when Thorin ____". I can't imagine having to read The Hobbit knowing that plot spoiler. There must be some way you could rephrase that, mark it as a spoiler, or something.

4. Video Game. That's the lens that Peter Jackson used for The Hobbit. Ninja-spinning, kill-the-big-boss, video game. The Hobbit might be my favorite book of all time. I've seen good and terrible renditions of it as animated cartoons, plays, sound recordings. But the first movie was so disappointing that I couldn't bring myself to watch the second. There are moments that Jackson's movie is truly the book brought to life! Then moments that it is so much something else that it feels like he's like peeing on the altar. Massive disappointment.


message 19: by Brad (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brad Glen wrote: "1. You write beautifully. Your reviews are like short stories. I haven't actually wept yet reading one of your reviews, but I could see it happening.

2. Love the insight about Bilbo's tall tale. I..."
1. Thanks, Glen; 2. I am curious to see if you see Bilbo that way when you read it again. I hope it's not just me; 3. Took care of the spoiler. I do have a tendency to write spoilers in without thinking about them very much at all when it is a book with massive cultural footprint. Feels a bit like spoiling who Luke's father is in Star Wars, but I fixed it for you all the same; 4. I find Jackson very frustrating. He lost me at Helm's Deep and never got me back.


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

Glen Bilbo's Lies: We're all entitled to our own interpretation, and I'll enjoy thinking about yours the next time I read this, whether I end up agreeing with it or not!

Spoiler: Awesome - thanks!

Years ago I spent hours carefully drawing out Helm's Deep from Tolkien's description. It didn't help that he used archaic/British terms like "gore" to mean "a small usually triangular piece of land." But I have to say that Jackson's model matched every aspect I was able to figure out, right down to the direction of the sunlight when it appeared.

I just looked up the clips of Smaug and Bilbo on YouTube and think I will not watch the other Jackson Hobbit movies. Even in these scenes, great moments right out of the book are combined with annoying distractions of Jackson's invention. These books feel sacred to me. I'm not sure I'd be happy with any movie version.


message 21: by Brad (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brad Glen wrote: "Bilbo's Lies: We're all entitled to our own interpretation, and I'll enjoy thinking about yours the next time I read this, whether I end up agreeing with it or not!

Spoiler: Awesome - thanks!

Yea..."


One of the things Jackson did well was, for sure, capturing the look of most of the locations (maybe all, actually). The Shire looked like the Shire, Isengard looked as I'd imagined, and Helm's Deep did look like Helm's Deep, but it was those bits of Jackson invention (and the suicide bomber was my Helm's Deep last straw) that ultimately pushed me away from those films. I have actually never gotten around to the Hobbit movies, and I don't think I ever will now. They will proudly remain films I've never seen, like Home Alone.


back to top