Friday, April 22, 2011

We hates it forever

I have just read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien to prepare me for reading all three LOTR books. These are my thoughts on it.

- Gollum is easily my favorite part of the book and he's way too good a character to only appear in one chapter here, which I guess is why Tolkien decided to make him such a major player in the trilogy. In fact, when I first started to read the book as an 8th grader, I think I stopped reading after his chapter.
- Bilbo is such a better character than Frodo. More resourceful, less whiny, and just more colorful in general. I can't see why Frodo even needs to exist in the first place. It would've been better to just have Fellowship take place shortly after the events in The Hobbit, and have Bilbo be the one who takes the ring into Mordor. It really sucks that Frodo is appearing in the upcoming adaptation from Peter Jackson, because this story has nothing to do with him.
- This must've been a pretty groundbreaking book at the time, right? I know it didn't invent the fantasy genre or anything, but I can't think of too many other books from around 1937 that did the whole "build the world, than have an epic adventure in it" thing which every fantasy series nowadays does. Or at least, I doubt there was any book that did it as well as Tolkien does here.
- The prose style is one that would bother me if I were reading a non-fantasy book, but somehow it fits perfectly here. I love how all the characters take ten sentences to say something that could be said with one (especially in the dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug) and the long-winded descriptions of what time of day it is or what that part of Middle-earth looks like really gave me a sense of being trapped in that world, with the characters.
- I'll admit, I didn't see the final battle at the end coming. For some reason I had the impression that this book was a much "smaller" story than the trilogy, just a simple "there-and-back-again" narrative about stealing from a dragon. Instead it's about the very nature of war itself, about how the actions of very few can lead to conflicts between many. That was a smart turn to take, especially since after the dragon died, I had no idea where the story could go from there.
- Has anyone ever seen the old cartoon movie based on it? I used to have an old VHS that had this and The Secret of Nimh copied from TV, but all I remember about it is what Bilbo looked like. I wonder if it's worth going back to check out.


Austin said...

I wouldn't recommend the Rankin-Bass cartoon, read the book again or watch Jackson's LOTR instead.

I agree with some of your assessments, but disagree with others. (shocking, I know.)

-Gollum is a great character, and Riddles in the Dark an awesome chapter. Fun fact, in the original version of the story, Bilbo wins the riddle contest and Gollum gladly gives him the ring and holds up to his end of the bargain, escorting Bilbo out. With the addition of Lord of the Rings ,Tolkien realized it didn't make sense, as it was more evil destroy the world artifact and less helpful bauble it appeared at first.

-Bilbo is a more interesting character than Frodo, but to be fair, Bilbo had the ring when it was dormant, Frodo had it when it was constantly trying to corrupt him. I think Bilbo is a good example of what Frodo may have been like if his circumstances were different, plus he's cooler in the books than saucer eyes Elijah Wood.

-It was very groundbreaking. It didn't invent fantasy, but pretty much every fantasy since owes a great debt to it and Professor Tolkien. It's the first real "high fantasy" book, and probably still one of the best.

-Glad you like the drawn out prose, it gets even more drawn out in Fellowship and on. The Battle of Five armies is great, it's something I'm looking forward to more than anything in the upcoming movie.

-I guess I don't disagree so much as have something to say about each of your comments. But skip the cartoon movie. It makes Bilbo out into a fat pussy, instead of reluctant hero he is in the books. Gollum is a frog man and the dwarfs are about on par with Disney's Seven midgets, Thorin taking the part of Grumpy. And the songs. Blech.

Tracie said...

I love The Hobbit. I read the first book in the trilogy and liked it okay, but not enough to continue reading. (I actually prefer the movies to the books.)

I think Tolkien gets bogged down in LOTR with all the facts and history and forgets that he's supposed to be telling a story, which is why I prefer the movie. It makes more sense on a narrative level.

Anyway, The Hobbit I think doesn't suffer from those problems as much. The narrative is a lot cleaner LOTR. It's one of my favorite fantasy books and favorite children's stories. (Though I prefer Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles to the Hobbit. They were friends. :) )

Jacob I. McMillan said...

Yeah Tracie, I'm in the middle of Fellowship right now and at a certain point I just gave up on the pacing and tried to appreciate the sheer level of detail, which is pretty mind-boggling in itself. I have no doubt in my mind he knew exactly what he wanted his world to look like, which is not something I get from most books.

Austin, Wendy explained to me the other day that Frodo necessarilly has to be a weak character in order to keep Gollum in the story for as long as he does. I guess that's as good a justification as any, I just wish every other line out of his mouth wasn't "I wish I had never left the Shire" or some variation of. It's like, then go kill yourself and let Sam, Merry and Pippin do the rest because they are all way more useful than you. I mean, I see what Gandalf saw in Bilbo, but I don't see what any of the characters ever saw in Frodo. Doesn't work for me.

Wendy McMillan said...

I'm still amazed you are reading these books. I knew you would love The Hobbit and I kind of saw this coming with the LOTR trilogy. I'm glad I finally live with someone that I can vent to about these issues. Do you know how hard it was for me to keep my mouth shut about the battle of 5 armies? Isn't it awesome how he pulls that on you?

Tracie said...

"They were friends"

I'd like to strike that from the record. C.S. Lewis and Tolkien knew each other. Lloyd Alexander was influenced by Tolkien (who wasn't?) but they were not contemporaries. (I get Lewis and LA confused briefly.)

Carry on...