Content warnings: Mentions of death, persistent fat-shaming of Bombur the dwarf
My Rating: 5 books out of 5
- High-fantasy shenanigans
- Surprisingly hilarious
- Gandalf is a little shit and I adore him
- Still-relevant takes on the hoarding and value of material wealth
- Numerous musical numbers
“Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures? Anything from climbing trees to visiting elves – or sailing in ships, sailing to other shores! Bless me, life used to be quite inter – I mean you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business.”
The Hobbit is one of those stories that has stood the test of time incredibly well. I knew of it, of course, in the way that people know about Tolkien – I’d watched the Lord of the Rings growing up, I’d been to see the Hobbit movies when they were released, Gandalf and co are a mainstay in pop-culture and you can’t discuss fantasy fiction without Tolkien coming up at least once. It’s also one of Lauren’s favourite books, and seeing as she has excellent taste I decided it was high-time to read this fantasy classic. Spoiler alert: I loved it.
And I might be a Hobbit.
“This last belonged to Thorin, an enormously important dwarf, in fact no other than the great Thorin Oakenshield himself, who was not at all pleased at falling flat on Bilbo’s mat with Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur on top of him. For one thing Bombur was immensely fat and heavy.”
The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins, a character I identify with more than is possibly healthy, being dragged from his home by bearded men he hardly knows to steal from a dragon. Tolkien’s ability to create entire worlds, species and languages is – within my reading repertoire anyway – essentially unmatched. We all know about Hobbits, they’re short, they like to eat, they have hairy feet (neatly brushed, of course) and they live the dream in beautiful, subterranean houses in an idyllic countryside. Bilbo is a Hobbit like any other, content to be entirely ordinary until the end of his days – until a wizard shows up looking to share an adventure with him, and Bilbo decides that perhaps he’s not content after all. The most relatable part of Bilbo’s adventuring motivation is this: he goes primarily because Thorin says he wouldn’t cope. He GOES ON A QUEST TO ROB A DRAGON OUT OF SPITE AND THIS IS WHY I LOVE HIM. Accompanied not only by Gandalf but a group of dwarves intent on reclaiming their home, Bilbo rides away from the Shire into places unknown and dangerous, and he will not return the same.
“I am always last and I don’t like it,” said Bombur. “It’s somebody else’s turn today.”
“You should not be so fat. As you are, you must be with the last and lightest boatload. Don’t start grumbling against orders, or something bad will happen to you.”
Poor Bombur, honestly these guys never let up on the fat shaming. Justice for Bombur.
I was surprised by how funny this book is, it just made me really happy. Now I’ve seen the movies, so I was quite taken aback by how jovial and musical the whole affair was – even the goblins burst into song at least once. It was less troup of hardened warriors prepare to battle a dragon and more group of old men in colour coded hoods plan to steal from sleeping dragon and not wake him up. There are serious scenes, and some that are quite scary – looking at you Gollum – and it’s not the sanitised ‘everything is always fine in the end’ peril of modern children’s stories which just served to make it better to me. The lighthearted tone was balanced with action and risk and it’s an exciting story to read.
“Thieves! Fire! Murder! Such a thing had not happened since first he came to the mountain! His rage passes description – the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted.”
This is a story that makes some excellent and lasting points about greed and amassing wealth. Smaug is so aware of the gold he hoards but will never put to use that he is outraged by the disappearance of a single item among thousands. Thorin’s judgement, usually good and noble, wavers when it is suggested he share in the wealth of his people – even when the lives of those people are threatened. The Master of Lake Town would rather save his treasures than his community, even the King of the Wood Elves has a weakness for the shine of white gems. When people in positions of power and great wealth make rash or selfish decisions, they hurt the people around them.
And you could be the richest man in Middle Earth, but once your supplies run out and your allies have become enemies you cannot eat treasure.
“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
This is a story that has lasted for good reason. It is at once funny, dramatic, magical and meaningful, and a delight to read. I highly recommend it, and I will definitely read the rest of Tolkien’s work. His narrative voice is a joy, and it is easy to see why his writing has become part of our cultural heritage.