Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: The Hobbit

For any of you who have not read the Hobbit, thar be spoilers ahead. For those of you who have, I may be about to spew a whole mess of heresy.

I just finished re-reading the Hobbit for the first time since puberty and I gotta say, the experience was very different. Now, I am a long-time, huge Tolkien fan. I have re-read Lord of the Rings multiple times and watched the movies twice as much. However, I gotta say that while re-reading the Hobbit, I was really aware of just how poorly structured the story is.

I feel like the story starts off pretty well. At first it seems like it is going to be a classic hero journey focused on a sheltered and unassuming hobbit, overcoming his fears and proving himself in the world. Of the three paths to Shakespearean greatness, Bilbo is following path C... "thrust upon 'em..." by an old man and a bunch of dwarves.* But does Bilbo really ever live up to his hero status?

He's hired by the dwarves to rob Smaug the dragon and help them take back their kingdom. Why do they need his help, exactly? Well, there are 13 individuals in the party, which is unlucky... unless you count the fact that Gandalf was traveling with the dwarves, thus making their number actually 14, and mooting the stated need for Bilbo. Except that Gandalf apparently has better things to do than stick around with the dwarves for most of the journey... So, I guess Bilbo does bring the group number to lucky 14 for most of the trip and 15 when Gandalf isn't off getting stoned or something.

So, Bilbo's job is to rob the dragon and take back the kingdom. Does he do either? no! He steals exactly one piece of treasure from the dragon, pissing him off enough to send him rampaging around the countryside. Then, Bilbo (the supposed hero) is not even around when Smaug, (the main villain) is killed. In fact, Smaug is brought down by someone who is little better than an extra. Bard, the one who does the honor, isn't even introduced into the story until just before Smaug comes crashing into Lake-Town. Even then he manages to kill the dragon only because a bird (who is probably Gandalf in bird form) points out the dragon's secret weak spot. So... the bird is the hero?

Seriously, this guy is in the book for like, one scene.
Image by megatruh
The bird turned archery coach is just one of several deus ex machinae to pop up throughout the Hobbit. Gandalf bails Bilbo and the dwarves out when they're beset by trolls, and then the eagles bail them all out when they're treed by goblins. The eagles and Beorn the bear bail everyone out again during the battle of the five armies. In fact, the characters established as the protagonists (Bilbo and the dwarves) seem to solve very few problems on their own. Bilbo has some success against Golem, the forest elves, the spiders, and discovers the dragon's weak spot, but that's about it. He is otherwise incredibly passive. He doesn't even act on his knowledge about the dragon! If that thrush hadn't been such a go-getter, everyone would be hosed! Bilbo even spends the entire climactic battle knocked out cold... truly a curious protagonist.

Oh, back to the original reason for Bilbo even being there... Thorin gets his cousin to back him up during the battle of the five armies... so, why didn't he just go there in the first place to find his 14th party member and skip Bilbo altogether? The hobbit is irrelevant to the Hobbit.

Despite its unorthodox, dare I say, amateurish structure, I still enjoyed the re-read. It is fun. I may even read it again. However, it also left me really curious about what Peter Jackson is going to do with the next two Hobbit films. If the first film is any indication, he's not too concerned about sticking to the story, and honestly, I can't say that I blame him. The story as is would make an awful movie. However, if Jackson starts putting a dragon-killing bow in Bilbo's hands, or tries to give Bard an actual character arc, or makes Thorin anything other than a manic-depressive manipulative douchebag, he'll likely find a lot of nerd rage flowing his way. I am also reeeeally curious to see how he handles the elves. The elves of the Hobbit are a far cry from the ancient emo kids in white found in Lord of the Rings. No, the Hobbit elves are more like slap-happy Christmas elves, full of song and holly-jolly cheer. We'll see what happens, but I am definitely curious. I'd love to see Orlando Bloom wearing curly shoes with bells on them.

*I put on my robe and wizard hat -Twelfth Night Act II Scene V


  1. At least its decent read, not too slow like in some parts of the Lord of the Rings.

    Maybe Tolkien thought Bilbo would be good comic-relief:

    "Thag you very buch."

  2. Interesting. I never thought about the Hobbit in that way but I see you are right. But it still boils down to that one final thing . . . it is a joy to read. Also, does life ever make sense?

  3. I think you're misunderstanding the reason for Bilbo being on the trip. It wasn't so that he could be the "hero;" it was so that he could learn about himself. And act as a mirror for the dwarves so that they could learn something about themselves, too. It is only through Bilbo's actions in taking the Arkenstone that the dwarves finally can see that there is more to life, so to speak, than just regaining their riches. Gandalf brought Bilbo to open the dwarves eyes to the value of friendship and loyalty.

  4. Yeah, definitely still enjoyable, and I agree that Bilbo is supposed to be there for a purpose other than that of the classic hero, but to put it in game terms, it felt like the story was an adventure in which the NPCs solved all of the PCs problems for them. Bilbo had his moments when engaged in riddle-matches. I just wish they were more strongly tied to the flow of action.

    1. I'm not sure that's the case, either, as the dwarves never solved their own problems. Other than Bilbo getting caught by the trolls, he solved all of the problems on the rest of the trip.
      He warned Gandalf of the goblins in the cave.
      He beat Gollum at riddles and won the ring.
      He escaped from the goblins on his own (whereas the dwarves had Gandalf).
      He rescued the dwarves from the spiders.
      He rescued the dwarves from the elves.
      He discovered the weakness of the dragon (even if it was so that someone else could take advantage of it).
      He stalled the war long enough so that the armies could unite against the goblins.
      Without Bilbo, the dwarves wouldn't have made it very far.

  5. The Hobbit was intended for younger readers. The film should not span three films. There is a passage were Bilbo goes down a river in a barrel. Jackson tells us this takes 20 minutes of film time?
    The Lord of the Rings was intended for a older audience and three films work makes sense.
    I can't help but think of The Sword Of Shannara when I think of the Hobbit as it is not only similar in subject but also on a reading level. (Tolkien was not a children's author).
    If you ever have kids and want to introduce them to Tolkien I suspect you will ream them The Hobbit.

  6. I think I was about 15 when I first read the Hobbit and as you say, it was quite enjoyable. But being that it was my very first foray into fantasy, I was picturing the dwarves like the Snow White seven and the elves as diminutive toy makers.

    Then I read it again around 18 and I tried reading the Fellowship shortly after and just couldn't get into it. I think I put it down before they ever got to Rivendell. The ringwraiths were scary as hell, I'll give it that.

    Then when I saw the first movie at 20 it whetted my whistle and I gave the Hobbit another quick read (I think in like a weekend) and picked up LOTR enjoying it a lot more having the cast of actors tromping through my imagination.

    I've now read the Hobbit a fourth time just before seeing the movie and I agree that Peter Jackson, while a great filmster, could do what needs doing in 2 movies, not 3. I'll still see them because I still love it - especially that he's bringing in more from other sources to flesh it out better. I'd really like to see him put his genius to work on the Children of Hurin, which is easily my favorite Tolkien. Silmarillion is great, but sooooooo dry.


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