Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily
Such a terrible task I have taken on. To review one of the worlds most loved stories. Before we begin, you may be aware of the incredible amount of love that a great number of people have for the works of J.R.R.Tolkien, or not as the case may be. If you are a long time admirer and have read his entire canon, then this is not a review you need to be reading. This is for those thinking of dipping their toes in to the world of Middle Earth.
Published back in 1937 The Hobbit, or There and Back Again has since been revised many times in order to bring it in to line with its sequel, The Lord of the Rings. It is a tale for children, but has many themes that are worthy of an adult’s attention.
Essentially this is the tale of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. Like all hobbits, he’s a home-loving sort, with a great appreciation of food and peacefulness. He is highly respectable until one day the wizard, Gandalf, appears at his little round hobbit hole. As a result of Gandalf’s brief visit Bilbo finds himself inundated with dwarves for afternoon tea the following day. Thirteen of them, in fact.
Led by Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King under the Mountain, these thirteen wish to reclaim their treasure from the Lonely Mountain and from under the belly of Smaug the dragon. Gandalf proposes Bilbo as the fourteenth member of the party and chief burglar.
In this way, the stay-at-home Bilbo is led into an arduous, dangerous and even humorous series of adventures as the fourteen, plus Gandalf, make their way from the safe and secure Shire to the halls of the Lonely Mountain.
Along the way we meet trolls, goblins, wargs, Gollum, the Eagles, Beorn, the Elvenking of Mirkwood, the Master and men of the laketown Esgaroth and finally Bard the Bowman. Each promising adventure, danger and bravery in equal measure.
It is beautifully realised, and perfectly pitched for children. It does not shy away from the grimness of life, but also allows for it to be described in such wonderful language as to soften many of the harder aspects. It really is an excellent read.
Descriptions of the terrible travels in the mountains,
He knew that something unexpected might happen, and he hardly dared to hope that they would pass without fearful adventure over those great tall mountains with lonely peaks and valleys where no king ruled. They did not. All was well, until one day they met a thunderstorm – more than a thunderstorm, a thunder-battle. You know how terrific a really big thunderstorm can be down in the land and in a river-valley; especially at times when two great thunderstorms meet and clash. More terrible still are thunder and lightning in the mountains at night, when storms come up from East and West and make war. The lightning splinters on the peaks, and rocks shiver, and great crashes split the air and go rolling and tumbling into every cave and hollow; and the darkness is filled with overwhelming noise and sudden light.
Descriptions of the fighting, in this case with the goblins,
Just at that moment all the lights in the cavern went out, and the great fire went off poof! into a tower of blue glowing smoke, right up to the roof, that scattered piercing white sparks all among the goblins.
The yells and yammering, croaking, jibbering and jabbering; howls, growls and curses; shrieking and skriking, that followed were beyond description. Several hundred wild cats and wolves being roasted slowly alive together would not have compared with it.
Yes, no backing away from grimness. But done so poetically.
And as for poetry, the book is scattered with it, often in the form of songs. The dwarves love to sing and make music, as do the other inhabitants of Middle Earth and Tolkien shares this regularly throughout. My favourite being the song sung by the dwarves in Bilbo’s hobbit hole on the night they meet to discuss the adventure ahead. For the sake of brevity I will only quote a small amount.
Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.
The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.
For a wonderful adaptation of this song*, and for a fair (in my opinion) retelling of The Hobbit so far, you can’t go wrong with the film released last year. In the meantime, here is a Youtube version of Misty Mountains for you to get a feel for the ambiance of the film and, I think, of the book.
All in all, this is definitely a book to read to your children and for yourself. If you have not read The Lord of the Rings, then starting here is a nice, light way in to the world and peoples of Middle Earth.
A definite five-star read for me. I hope you enjoy it too.
* they chose two verses, with minor alterations to one line of the original song.
For more Hobbit and Lord of the Rings discussions and information, you cannot go past The One Ring website.
And a final disclaimer, yes I do proudly live in Middle Earth. In fact I live in the middle of Middle Earth where these stories have been brought to another generation through the films. So perhaps I am a little biased.