Premise: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, a race of small folksy people who keep to themselves, love to eat and make merry, and who never have adventures. That is, they never have adventures until the wizard Gandalf stops in for a visit. Gandalf invites thirteen dwarves to Bilbo’s under the hill home to set off on a journey, and little does Bilbo know that he has been roped into the adventure to go along with them. In fact, he has been given a special job by Gandalf as their burglar to capture the long lost dwarf treasure.
The party gets help along the way from Gandalf, Elrond and the elves of Rivendell, Beorn the skin-changer, the great eagles, and the men of Dale. The elves of Mirkwood prove to be challenging and a troublesome annoyance, but even with their mutual antipathy with the dwarves they may find opportunity to both battle with and alongside each other to face less graceful foes.
On their adventure, the group encounters trolls, wolves, spiders, elves, goblins, and other crafty creatures. Their ultimate goal is to find the treasure guarded by the dragon Smaug. It is here that Bilbo’s role as the burglar becomes most important. Even achieving victory can bring about its own unforeseen struggles, and no one could have predicted what might happen if the group were able to eventually gain the treasure.
Themes: Living a comfortable life where nothing exciting ever happens, an adventure is forced upon Bilbo. When faced with a seemingly impossible task filled with trials throughout the journey, Bilbo’s capabilities are put to the test. He becomes more decisive, with those decisions being increasingly infused with wisdom. It is through trials that a person learns their true character.
The goal of the dwarves to obtain their lost riches is wrought with peril, and not just from the dangers of the threat of harm from spiders and trolls. The obsession to gather treasure leads some to turn on Bilbo, the one without whom they would have all been lost, and to put even their own lives before releasing a portion of their wealth that they only had known for a short time.
Pros: Few books can span time and generations like The Hobbit. It lays the groundwork for arguably the greatest epic fantasy of all time in The Lord of the Rings, but it is a good stepping stone to make the much larger trilogy more accessible. The Hobbit is full of wit and playfulness in the face of danger, giving voice to the little guy and making the reader see new ways of accomplishing goals apart from brute force. An entire world is encapsulated in this compact story so masterfully that it makes the world building of The Lord of the Rings that much more impressive.
Cons: The pacing in The Hobbit is somewhat disjointed. We go from having tea and washing dishes in the first chapter to being captured by trolls in chapter two. The narrative changes gears too quickly at times, speeding through the mountains but dragging on and on through Mirkwood. Unfortunately, the popular culture references, while humorous, seem out of place in the story and can give this beautiful story a dated feel. I have always felt there were too many characters in The Hobbit, especially with so many dwarves to have to give each one a unique personality.
Recommendations: The Hobbit is a glorious tale of adventure written for children but it can be enjoyed by everyone. With today’s shorter attention spans it might be boring to some people, or seem childish because of its intended audience, however The Hobbit makes the reader take a second look at taking risks and enjoying life. It speaks volumes about the corruption of riches while decrying war and its horrors. In spite of its flaws, I can’t help but love The Hobbit and recommend everyone read it. Try reading it out loud to someone, preferably a child, and the magic it contains will more readily reveal itself.