In a mythical or maybe just forgotten time, many creatures lived in places like the Shire, home to Bilbo Baggins, Hobbit. Hobbits are comfort loving creatures with no real sense for adventure. A knock on the door and Bilbo's life is about to change.
Calling this book children's book is like calling "Alice in Wonderland" [see "The Annotated Alice"] a children's book. Yes children can read this book and it is fun. How ever there is a lot more to this book than a cute story. And it has all the depth of the other Tolkien works with the exception of being shorter.
Many people look at this story as a prequel to "The Lord of the Rings", where in reality it is a stand-alone story with a perfectly good beginning, middle, and end. When you read "The Lord of the Rings" there is enough description to forgo "The Hobbit." Personally, I find that reading The Lord of the Rings first gave me the in-depth background to better appreciate The Hobbit. Many of the creatures and adventures will put you on the edge of your seat. You will recognize the personalities and grow along will Bilbo as he faces new challenges as he learns to deal with life. A good book to read first would be "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell. Then you get a clearer picture of why the story progresses as it does.
This book is really fabulous and outshines the Lord of the Rings. It has a lighter touch altogether and never takes itself too seriously, although it's brimming with great adventure, humour and vivid description. Nothing in the Lord of the Rings compares with Bilbo's exciting adventures with Gollum, the Goblins and Smaug. When Gandalf arrives at Bilbo's Hobbit hole and introduces the 'dwarves' the ensuing evening is just pure magic - funny, and charged with the anticipation of impending adventures. The recent films pale into insignificance with this masterpiece and every child and adult should read it. The Lord is a great read and an epic, but this book is concentrated delight. Definitely better not to have any pictures other than the ones conjured by the words.
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[NOTE: I am reissuing my Amazon.com reviews on Amazon.co.uk. This review was originally published on Amazon.com April 7, 2000]
The biggest problem with this novel is perception. Tolkien wrote this story for children; to be more specific, this was written for HIS children. There were several stories like this, but it was this, The Hobbit, that was his master achievement in children's literature.
The Lord of the Rings ( a single epic, NOT a trilogy) was written to cash in on The Hobbit's success. Tolkien wanted to get on with the more serious work of his mythology, and ultimately that is what happened with The Lord of the Rings. It became attached to his mythology, and became as important to him as The Silmarillion.
So delineation is required if you want to read this. Do not go in with the thought that The Hobbit is a "precursor" or any such nonsense to The Lord of the Rings. Think of it like you would think of any other children's classics: children's classics. If you take it on The L. R.'s terms, this is a failure, primary because it is not written to be like that. But, on the flipside, The L. R. is as much a failure in children's fiction. It is not children's fiction, it is epic fantasy, and one should not equate it with children's fiction. That is EXACTLY what people try to do with The Hobbit. They try to put it in the same type of genre or playing field as The L. R. They are both masterpieces, and I love them both dearly. But one is for children, the other with adults.
Of course, Tolkien is part of the problem. How many books do you know that is a children's book and has an adult sequel? Not very many. The Hobbit, scarcely 300 pages, was written and published in the children's market. He then talked to his publishers, and they wanted a sequel. So he began "the new Hobbit", as C. S. (Jack) Lewis so aptly put it. He was preoccupied with his mythology, and the sequel was drawn into it. So we have two works, spanning two different genres, and as far as surface connections go its little more than prequel/sequel. Instead of looking at The Hobbit as a prequel, a precursor to his ADULT masterpiece, an inferiour version, think of as his CHILDREN'S masterpiece. The Hobbit is top of the class in children's fiction, one of the few contenders against such other great children's works as Narnia and Wrinkle in Time. The Lord of the Rings, likewise, is THE crowning masterpiece of the fantasy genre, of which its influence is incalculable to that fantasy market. Both are as important as the other, just in different fields.
I haven't talked about The Silmarillion much. I have already reviewed it, so I won't go real in-depth here. But the same thing happened with it. People, expecting another Lord of the Rings, were inevitably disappointed with the Biblical style of the published version. If Tolkien wrote that book out in narrative form as he did Lord of the Rings, it would be ten times longer than Lord of the Rings. The biggest problem with Tolkien is people have to many preconceptions that are incorrect.
So, basically, in conclusion, think of it like this:
1. The Hobbit - Children's masterpiece. He scores big with this one.
2. The Lord of the Rings - a single fantasy, not a trilogy. (Tolkien was always quick to point that out). The Crowning achievement of modern fantasy.
3. The Silmarillion - the Bible of Middle-earth. Much more for students of his work than the causal reader.
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