Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review: The Hobbit

I've technically never "read" The Hobbit or any of the Lord of the Rings books before, what happened was that my dad read them all out loud to me, along with a few other books like Tom Sawyer, years ago and I decided that with the film coming out this year that I should go ahead, actually read The Hobbit and the other books as well (in addition to the obligatory movie marathon that is). So, right before I won a few contests and had a ton of books coming, I checked out an old looking copy of the book at the local library, was surprised at just how short it was and wondered how it was supposed to be split into two films.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Not the exact cover I had (a very plain green hardcover with some embossings, the spine actually had The Hobbit written in runes and left me hunting all around for the book at first) but this cover looks a lot like the illustrations in the book and apparently is based off a design Tolkien did (tvtropes says this is the dustcover of the first edition). Yes, my copy actually had illustrations in it which I believe were done by Tolkien himself. There weren't a lot of them, hence why I didn't give this review an art section, but it was an interesting touch and I liked it.

Summary: While Bilbo Baggins comes from a family of hobbits that sometimes has adventures, a most improper thing, he has never felt the urge to venture any farther from his hobbit hole than he has to and doesn't see that changing anytime soon. But an old friend of the family, the wizard Gandalf, drags Bilbo into an adventure with thirteen dwarves to reclaim a horde of treasure stolen from a dragon and Bilbo takes to adventuring better than he expected. 

The Good: Having now read the story myself I do think there is enough material to make two movies out of the story and that this isn't just a "money-grubbing move" by the studio, while short there is a surprising amount of stuff that goes on. The story itself isn't very complicated and doesn't have any real twists to speak of either but again, more happens in the story than you would expect and it's a rather satisfying read. By the end of the story you've seen Bilbo and the other characters get in and out of nearly half a dozen situations and it feels like a full, complete story.

The Bad: The pacing is bit odd at points, sometimes there are action scenes back to back to back and other times it seems like there's a long gap between events, hopefully with the movies adding in some additional stories the pacing will be smoothed out. One thing I didn't recall was how a large number of the characters are a bit unlikable and hard to sympathize with. Everyone knows that elves are snobs and I remembered that some of the people from Long Lake were less than friendly but for the first part of the book Bilbo seemed like he was a character being dragged around by the plot instead of interacting with the plot (tvtropes even lables him on the sliding scale of anti-heroes for this part) and I had forgotten that the dwarves also have their moments. This might not bother some people but I was rather surprised and I'm curious to see if they'll keep such things as Bilbo's early unlikability in there (I hope they do since it really makes him and Frodo very different characters).

As I said the book is a bit on the short side so there's not a lot to talk about without getting into specific plot points but I was happy to see that I enjoyed this more than I expected and I really want to go, (re?)read the Lord of the Rings, watch the movies, and then catch the new movie when it comes out in December. I suspect I'll enjoy LotR more, simply because I like complicated, political high fantasy, but this was still a fun read. 

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