By: J.R.R. Tolkien
Whisked away from his comfortable, unambitious life in his hobbit-hole in Bag End by Gandalf the wizard and a company of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon…
It’s been a few years since I’ve read this novel and with the release of the first full-length trailer, I decided to re-read the book as a way to quell my excitement for it (December 2012, after all, is a long time away ;_;). Contains some spoilers ahead!
Re-reading The Hobbit is really like coming home. There’s just no other way of explaining the feeling I get when I start re-reading a book set in Middle Earth. It’s a familiar place, like a neighbouring place that you always stop by in your daily life. It was fun to re-experience Bilbo and the dwarves’ journey from Hobbiton to the Lonely Mountain in the northeast, facing trolls, orcs and spiders (*shudders*) along the way.
It was also fun to re-read this book because you pick up on interesting things that perhaps you never noticed before. The main thing I noticed while I was re-reading this book was how funny it was. The dwarves in particular were notably sassy and grumpy almost all the time during their entire journey to the Lonely Mountain, despairing after almost every close-call incident and saying things like “Good-bye and go away!” (to Gandalf when he departed from the company for a little while) Gandalf too had some pretty snappy comebacks to quell the dwarves when they started getting all moody and grumpy towards him; one of my favourite lines from him was when he was trying to cheer the dwarves and Bilbo up before he left and he told Bilbo
“Stick to the forest-track, keep your spirits up, hope for the best, and with a tremendous slice of luck, you may come out one day and see the Long Marshes lying before you, and beyond them, high in the East, the Lonely Mountain where dear old Smaug lives, though I hope he is not expecting you.”
LOL, so much for comforting words, eh? But the banter amongst the dwarves are also hilarious to read, from Bombur complaining about why he was also assigned last to Dori demanding to the others whether he was some kind of porter that he had to carry Bilbo around whenever there’s trouble (alas, I don’t think that last bit will be in the movie—or will it?). Also, as different as the narrative is in The Hobbit compared to The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, the personal quality that it has can also be quite amusing.
What I also noticed upon re-reading this story again was the events surrounding their time in Mirkwood. For starters, it seems to have shocked me again the state that Mirkwood was in when Thorin and company went through it. Gandalf warned them not to eat anything from there (indeed, the squirrels apparently tasted pretty bad) or drink the water from the stream (the description of the river they passed by made it sound like it was polluted). The Elves of Mirkwood, the Wood-elves who never crossed the Seas to the West in ancient times, are distrustful and wary of foreigners entering their lands. Yet Gandalf also mentioned that Mirkwood was one of the great Northern forests in all of Middle Earth. I remember reading in the appendices of LOTR that the state of the outer regions of the Mirkwood was the result of the Necromancer’s mischief in the region, having set up a temporary base a bit further south from where Thorn and company travelled through. Nonetheless, it was pretty disheartening to read those descriptions of Mirkwood with the knowledge of what the elves can do with nature at the back of one’s mind.
But I wondered, and the King of Mirkwood pointed this out, why Gandalf did not send a message through to the king that Thorin was passing through? They could’ve avoided the whole debacle that the dwarves experienced in Mirkwood (although it was another moment in which Bilbo came in and saved the day for the dwarves). Was it because Gandalf knew there was no getting through to the elven king? Or was there some tension between the two? Or is this one of those plot points like the Eagles in LOTR and you just have to go through with it? It’s just a minuscle detail that popped into my head as I was reading.
What’s also fantastic while reading this book is that while it’s very much focused on the journey taken by Thorin and his band of dwarves and allies to reclaim his old home, the story is very much a personal one with Bilbo’s development as a character. When we first meet him, he is very much contented with the way his life is running, with his home in Hobbiton and the pleasantness of it all. He is unexpectedly thrust into the adventure by Gandalf and while he complains about it for a good part of the journey (constantly referring to how he’d rather be at Bag End at any particular moment, by a warm fire, having a nice meal, etc.), his experiences and the use of his cleverness and resourcefulness changed him as a person. By the time they reach the Lonely Mountain, he is playing an active role in the group on how to proceed. He’s far more courageous and even playing a bit of burglar as events progress (for example, when he picked up the Arkenstone and pocketed it in the meantime).
Overall, The Hobbit is a magical, fast-paced and adventurous romp through Middle Earth. It was great to read events before the events in The Lord of the Rings and the state that Middle Earth was in; you could still sense that there was danger abound with the orcs living in the Misty Mountains, the wargs that roamed the forests and the threat of the Necromancer lurking south of the Lonely Mountain. But it still feels just a bit safer than when Frodo makes his journey in LOTR. A must-read if you’re into fantasy or classic novels.