Sunday, June 16, 2013

"The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien

Though I read (and enjoyed) the Lord of the Rings trilogy back in high school, I never got around to reading The Hobbit. My husband and I rented the new movie a few weeks back, and though I wasn't especially impressed (I fell asleep, though I'll chalk that up to not being in the mood rather than the movie itself), I did want to try the book.

As most everyone knows, The Hobbit is aimed at children, which gives it a different tone from LOTR. In fact, perhaps this is one of the reasons the movie didn't work as much for me--Peter Jackson is trying to continue the epic seriousness of the LOTR movies with a story that just doesn't match it. Instead, The Hobbit is much goofier as Bilbo and the dwarves fight imbecile trolls or Bilbo plays around with his invisibility ring. (An aside on that--in the LOTR movies, the ring is a heavy burden for Frodo; he wears it reluctantly, and it takes a huge psychological toll on him as he carries it. That doesn't seem to be the case in The Hobbit. Bilbo wears the ring frequently, for long periods of time, with no ill effect. Is that an issue of the movies changing things? [I don't remember the LOTR books well enough.] Or does the ring's power change later on with the rise of Sauron?)

Even the quest at the heart of The Hobbit has little weight. Bilbo and the dwarves aren't trying to save the world--they're trying to steal the dwarves' treasure back from the dragon Smaug. Though I suppose things in the end are for the best (no surprise, the dragon is killed, and eventually all the evil goblins are too, though that's never the original purpose), you could argue the troop's actions largely cause more harm than good (and the good that does happen isn't really because of them). And of course, there's nothing wrong with telling this kind of story--I guess it was just unexpected, given the narrative in the LOTR.

And speaking of unexpected: the dragon's death. I just didn't get it. Bilbo and the dwarves set out to recapture their treasure--and presumably slay the dragon. They arrive at the dragon's mountain, they find the treasure, and then they hole up, deciding what to do. You figure the epic battle and dragon slayage will come soon. But, then, the dragon flies out to attack a village of men and some random guy (who, literally, Tolkien introduces in parentheses with "Bard was his name.") shoots an arrow and kills Smaug. It takes maybe one paragraph. And Bilbo and the dwarves aren't even there! What? You can't just kill the big evil so easily!

I suppose, once more, the issue may be more of my expectations being subverted than an actual criticism, but I just didn't know what to do with it. The dwarves are more stupid than heroic, though in contrast, Bilbo does appear all the more stronger.

So I didn't dislike the book, but it wasn't what I expected, and I imagine it's also vastly different than the movies Jackson is putting out.

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