J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (George Allen & Unwin 1937: reprinted 1951,
1966, 1978; Grafton 1991; Harper Collins 1993 -- and so forth) 
 

 

Far over the misty mountains cold To dungeons deep and caverns old We must away ere break of day, To find our long-forgotten gold. The dwarves of yore made mighty spells While hammers fell like ringing bells In places deep, where dark things sleep, In hollow halls beneath the fells. For ancient king and elvish lord There many a gleaming golden hoard They shaped and wrought, and light they caught To hide in gems on hilt of sword. On silver necklaces they strung The flowering stars, on crowns they hung The dragon-fire, in twisted wire They meshed the light of moon and sun. Far over the misty mountains cold To dungeons deep and caverns old We must away ere break of day, To claim our long-forgotten gold. ...

 

J. R. R. Tolkien excerpt from The Hobbit

 

What do you say about a classic, innovative, before-its-time, groundbreaking piece of fantastic literature? Something which has not already been said, something to encompass the entirety of a genre-making novel, read and loved by millions? It is not easy, I can tell you. And I decided that it would be an insurmountable and impossible task. So instead, I will tread where others have gone before me, and where others will certainly follow, and attempt nothing more than to share a really good book with you. (I'd like to thank my son for loaning me his copy, as mine is packed away with the rest of my library.)

Hobbits are very unadventurous folk, for the most part. These diminutive creatures tend to stay home and tend to that which they know -- creature comforts! Hobbits are small, about child size, and are no relation to dwarves whatsoever! There is one family which has shown a tendency to wander now and again, the Tooks, who have always been just a touch odd in the eyes of the other hobbits. Bilbo Baggins has a healthy share of Took blood in his veins, and loves stories of elves and adventure, and has been known to wander about his homeland, the Shire, now and again.

When the wizard Gandalf comes to visit, he sets a chain of events in motion that Bilbo would never have dreamed possible. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, Gandalf has set the stage for a wonderful adventure for the hobbit. Bilbo is to join Gandalf's friends, a company of dwarves, in their quest to regain their home from the mighty dragon Smaug. Bilbo is chosen by Gandalf as a burglar, and to round out the company's number to fourteen, for thirteen is a very bad number to undertake anything with. However, Gandalf is a very busy wizard and cannot be counted on to accompany them for the duration of the quest, nor can he be counted on to keep them out of trouble all the time.

Poor Bilbo is whisked away from his comfortable hobbit-hole before he can rightly think about what he is doing, running off without even a pocket handkerchief! What follows is an interesting tale woven about the company's journey to the Lonely Mountain, and their quest to vanquish Smaug and place Thorin on the throne as rightful ruler. Bilbo finds himself in the company of all manner of beings, from the shape-changing Beorn, to the majestic giant Eagles, Wood-elves to simple-minded Trolls, and learns much about them, finding that there is both good and bad in the world outside of the Shire.

For a simple hobbit, Bilbo Baggins makes an adequate thief, and saves the lives of his companions a number of times with both his daring and ingenuity, endearing himself time and again to the reader, and, of course, to his companions. The book culminates in the 'Battle of the Five Armies,' which is a horrific and historic battle in the history of Middle-Earth. The end of this book begins a new chapter in a wondrous magic-filled series, The Lord of the Rings, which continues with The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. But it is a dark chapter which Bilbo unwittingly begins when he comes across a plain ring of gold deep in the bowels of the mountain. A ring which seeks the hand of its master, a ring which is filled with peril for an unwary hobbit.

Tolkien was perhaps a man ahead of his time, or perhaps this was the perfect time; either way he changed the entire concept of fantasy forever. He not only created an epic fantasy series, but an entire history of a world and its peoples, and the languages to go with the different races. There is a feeling of realism about this vast history and world which Tolkien created. The author made everything as believable as possible while allowing us to partake of the best that high fantasy has to offer.

All of those novels which have now become commonplace and even cliche are spawned from the first, J. R. R. Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Elves, dragons, orcs, trolls, giants, all of these imagined beings which had never really starred in their own written stories, were new and shining brightly when this book came into being. Tolkien allowed the doors of imagination to open, and let some magic come forth into a mundane world. The genre is now flooded with repetition, with books which pale in comparison, but we will always have The Hobbit to reawaken that sense of wonder and magic within us.

The Hobbit is a delightful tale for old and young alike; it is a tale to be shared, and a kick-start to the imagination of us lowly humans. Dare to dream, for look what treasures you may find; a dragon's gold, a night spent in the company of elves, a meeting with royalty -- there is so much to be experienced here in this single novel. Don't deprive yourself of an incredible experience. Read it!

He was a fascinating man, who has left us a wonderful legacy!

[Naomi de Bruyn]