The Hobbit is one of my favorite books. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it. The first time, I think, I was in sixth or seventh grade. It’s been one of my go to books ever since. Whenever I need something that I know I’ll enjoy, it’s there for me. I decided to give it another read. And, as a way of lifting my writer’s block, I thought I’d share the experience.
The first thing I always notice is that the book has two titles in one, The Hobbit or There and Back Again. It is known as just The Hobbit, but I like There and Back Again as a title. It’s accurate and understated. And it makes me think Tolkien shared my opinion about spoilers. You know from looking at the cover that the hobbit is going to go there, and he’s going to come back again. It doesn’t matter that you know the ending. Any good book (or movie) can’t be spoiled. Any book (or movie) that relies on being unspoiled is saying that the surprise is more important than the story and characters. So, bravo to Tolkien for putting the biggest spoiler in the title and having the confidence to know that the book is still wonderful.
The next thing is the map of the Lonely Mountain and little forward about runes. I don’t remember what I thought of these as an eleven or twelve year old. Now I find it fascinating how well Tolkien knew the world he created. It’s one thing to know the plot and the characters, but he knew their languages and the geography. He knew their history and religion. There’s more detail than most of us know about the real world and he invented it. Like I said, fascinating.
Then we get to the first chapter, An Unexpected Party. It opens with a description of a hobbit hole. “Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” I always liked that sentence. It’s description but by saying what it isn’t. It’s a neat trick to pull off.
After the initial description, we meet The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, when he is paid a visit by Gandalf the Grey. Bilbo is a well to do hobbit and very respectable. Gandalf is at the very least eccentric. They make an odd couple, but it is a good initial sketch of their characters. Before Gandalf leaves, he puts a mark on Bilbo’s door.
Now we are in to the meat of the chapter, when the dwarves start arriving. There are two things I love about this. One, it has a lot of humor. Humorless books just aren’t worth the time it takes to read them. And I also love the way the dwarves are treated seriously. They are a proud people with a long tradition, and it shows.
Another thing I love is that the dwarves sing to get things started. We should try that.
Then we get the problem. There are thirteen dwarves, an unlucky number. So Gandalf picked Bilbo to be the fourteenth member of the party. Bilbo will act as the burglar. They are to travel to the Lonely Mountain to take back the dwarves’ ancestral home from Smaug the dragon. This all takes Bilbo by surprise, but the songs and the maps and the lore awaken something in him and he agrees to go.
The first chapter is a nice introduction to this world. It certainly gets your attention. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.