I have a bit of a long history with The Hobbit. I tried (and failed) many times to read it as a child, but never got out of the Shire. It was enough to make to decide that Tolkein was just not for me, but then I saw the Lord of the Rings films, loved the books on a second reading, and now I've come full circle and picked up The Hobbit again. It's the story of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who accidentally gets caught up with a group of dwarves off to kill the dragon who is guarding the stolen treasure of their ancestors. Along the way, Bilbo will learn a lot about himself.
The Hobbit was a surprising read for me, in that it didn't turn out in the way I expected it to at all. From the initial chapters, I had Thorin, the leader of the dwarves, pegged as the hero of the novel, and was imagining him smiting Smaug and generously sharing his treasure in the final chapters. But it wasn't like that at all, and the characterisations were surprisingly complex for a children's novel. Thorin is shown as brave, determined, and a good leader, but he is also greedy and blinded by his desire for Smaug's treasure. Similarly, the Master of one of the towns is morally ambiguous too.
Really, The Hobbit is all about Bilbo. Like most good children's books, it's main themes are centred around growing up and developing as a person. Bilbo starts the novel as reluctant to leave his home, scared of the world around him, and overly dependent on Gandalf and the other dwarves. When Gandalf leaves the group around half-way through the story, Bilbo gets a chance to come into his own. He starts making decisions, believing in himself, and in the end he emerges as one of the few characters untainted by greed for Smaug's treasure. There are a lot of opportunities for him to learn to be resolute, and to never give up, even when the going gets tough.
The other main theme of the novel is money and greed. We see good characters caught up in their desire to hoard the treasure, even when there is more than enough of it. Thorin doesn't want to give any of it away, even though there is no way he could use or transport more than a small quantity of it. The Hobbit is very much focused on friendships, personal strength and doing the right thing, as opposed to acquiring money or possessions. So it was perhaps a good read for the Christmas season!
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Hobbit, even more so than I did the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Perhaps because it is aimed at children, the adventure moves on at a brisk pace, and there is always something going on. Highly recommended.
Source: Personal copy
Score: 4.5 out of 5
The Classics Club: Book 30/72
My list of titles and reviews can be found here.