Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Discuss: The Hobbit (the book)

Karen: Since the film is out, let's discuss the book (and let's stick with just this book, and save Tolkien's other works for later posts). I first  read The Hobbit when I was about ten years old. It was yet another book I was introduced to by my older brother. It was the first real fantasy book I'd ever read and opened the doors to a lot of others. I'll always consider The Hobbit to be the icon, the one that set the standards and conventions of fantasy fiction for the decades to come (and you can argue whether that was for good or ill). I still try to read it every few years, and I still enjoy it. 


Edo Bosnar said...

Love, love, love this book, and I believe it is by far Tolkien's best. It's a perfect, funny, exciting fantasy adventure written for children (adolescents) that can be enjoyed again and again by adults. My older sister turned me on the book, reading the first few chapters to me when I was a little kid. I soon picked it up myself and finished it, and of course went on to many other books by Tolkien and then other fantasy writers. For me, The Hobbit really opened up all kinds of doors for future reading.
And I know you said we should avoid discussing other Tolkien works, but for me the comparison with LoTR is inevitable: I like the Hobbit so much more because it seems to have been written first and foremost to tell an enjoyable tale.
One of the main things I like about the Hobbit is that Tolkien really lets his sense of humor come to the fore - and if you've read any of his other children's stories or satirical works, you know he had a very refined sense of humor and of the absurd.

Rip Jagger said...

I found The Hobbit by way of the Lord of the Rings. I first became aware of Tolkein's epic when I saw the trilogy elegantly bound in black encased in a box in my high school library. It was way up high, well out of the reach of grubby fingers and not actually available for circulation. But it was mysterious and beautiful.I found The Fellowship of the Ring in paperback, read it, and loved it utterly.

Then when some time I stumbled across a box set of all the Tolkien books in my first year of college I snapped them up and became a full-fledged fan. I got all those early calendars, but alas saved nary a one.

Soon I had some more sturdy hardbacks, both of the Rings and especially The Hobbit. The Hobbit is a gorgeous book all on its own. I read it to my girls when they were growing up to reasonable effect, though I think I got more from those readings than they did.

It's tone isn't my ideal for fantasy, as I prefer the later Rings saga, but there's no denying the power of those early characters and settings. I haven't read the book in some time, though I keep meaning to. It's on the nightstand right now, but something always seems to get in front of it.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

By the way, the cover you posted here is the first edition of the book I bought with my own money (I think I paid $2.50 for it). My sister had the paperback edition from the early '70s with the sort of "hippiesque" cover, which is pretty cool, but I prefer the ones featuring Tolkien's illustrations.
I think Tolkien was also the best illustrator for his books, and the current paperback edition I have includes color plates with Tolkien's original paintings for the story. My favorites are that cover illustration of Bilbo with the barrels and the one with Smaug sitting on his pile of gold.

Anonymous said...

I loved the Hobbit. As Rip says, the tone is maybe not ideal for fantasy, but it makes for a great read. I found that I read it with same eyes both earlier and later (what I mean by that is, for example, I read Narnia as a very small child, utterly oblivious to the religious subtext. When I re-read them as an adult, it was unmissable and therefore a completely different story). The Hobbit is what it is.

Whilst the tone of LOTR may have been more in keeping, personally, I have never got through them. To this day. I consider the films to be superior as cinema to the achievement of the books as literature. I feel the exact same way about Harry Potter: the films are far superior to the books.

Does anyone else share my fear about the film? I mean that, no matter how well made it is, the events of that slim volume stretched out to three full length movies are going to feel padded and slow. In LOTR they were obliged, by the need for an epic quest, to walk all the way to Mordor when it seemed that they could have flown or travelled by magic. How the Hell are they going to drag out the plot of a 300 page novel to the same length as Fellowship/Towers/King? I have a queasy, phantom menace kind of feeling.


Karen said...

The cover I posted is the version of the book I first had and still have. Edo, I also love Tolkien's illustrations. I received that gold-foil box set of Hobbit/LOTR for Christmas when I was 11 or 12 and also still have that but did buy a new set of LOTR a few years ago because the old copies were beginning to fall apart.

Richard, I don't want to bias you in any way regarding the Hobbit film, but I saw it Sunday and the way they are stretching a slim novel into three three-hour films is by adding a ton of extraneous material. I really felt the movie was weighed down by a lot of unnecessary scenes. And Radagast is perhaps the Jar-Jar of The Hobbit. I can't say any more, mostly because it upsets me too much...

Edo Bosnar said...

I couldn't believe the news when I heard the film version is going to be a trilogy (!) - it should be a single, solid 2.5 (3 tops) hour movie. And ideally - I get why it wasn't, but still - it should have been released before the Rings trilogy. I know I will not be bothering to take the time and expense to go see this in the theater.
However, and with reference to the preceding discussion about holiday reading, all this talk about the book has me seriously thinking about pulling it off of my shelf and giving it another go around - it's been quite some time since I've last read it, now that I think of it...

humanbelly said...

When I was in 8th grade, we had a teacher-chosen readers' "Roundtable" group that a few of us higher-achieving students participated in. THE HOBBIT is one of the books we did (HALLOWEEN TREE and FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON were a couple of the others). We all were so entranced w/ THE HOBBIT that the teacher decided to do it for our big spring play (there actually is a surprisingly faithful version that is handled by Samuel French Co., I believe). I got cast as Bilbo, and that experience was the first unwitting step down the path of a life in theater (for better or worse, I should add...).

LOVED this book-- read it two or three times in my youth. Ours was also this same edition. And every time I read it, it got me all inspired to tackle Lord of the Rings again, and like Richard, I have never gotten through it. I wish. . . oh, I WISH. . . that I could love the trilogy as much as so many other folks clearly do, but I simply get bored and aggravated at Tolkien's inability to capably juggle multiple storylines and settle on who his protagonist actually is. Once Frodo & Sam kind of fade out in The Two Towers, I'm done. They're who I came to the party with, and I always feel like they ditched me and left me to nursemaid this moribund Ranger guy.

But I also think Bilbo is a much more enjoyable and compelling character than Frodo, on the whole. IIRC, Bilbo does try to have some sort of control his own actions and choices-- Frodo is just perpetually caught up in or fleeing away from (or towards) mayhem and trouble. Frodo always struck me as a passive player whereas Bilbo was noticeably more active.

Mind you, that's wide open to debate, as it's been some years since I've read the book, eh?

The LOTR movies? Well, my wife and I got through them, but- YAAAARGH!- they took the science of dragging out scripted scenes into completely uncharted realms. Possibly the most ponderous cinematic storytelling that's ever been put onscreen. It's right up there with the little shuttle in 2001 taking about 8 minutes to simply traverse from one side of the movie screen to the other. In dead silence.

STORY, folks! We need STORY!

hoo-boy-- runnin' 'way tangential, here. . .


Garett said...

I loved The Hobbit! Yes, hard to see a 9 hour movie in it--I liked that it wasn't a sprawling epic, more personal. I had read the Narnia series, enjoyed it, and also The Book of Three (Black Cauldron) series before Hobbit.

Remembering other novels...there was a series called Bard by Keith Taylor that I liked. There's a review on amazon:
Bard follows Felimid Mac Fal, "Bard of Erin, descendant of Druids and the Tuatha de Danann-- ancient faery race of Ireland, armed only with his harp and the fierce magical power of his poetry..." as he gets tangled up in things with vikings, a unicorn, the evil British royalty and simple tribes of Celtic folk.

Anonymous said...

What can I say?...I love this book! I have a slightly-mangled Unwin paperback edition from the late 70s which I still re-read every couple of years. That story never gets old.

Mike W.

Dougie said...

I cam to LOTR and thence to the Hobbit through Marvel letters pages and my secondary school library in the mid-70s. I adored the trilogy as a thirteen year old; I read it three times in succession.

I found the Hobbit a little childish and unsophisticated by comparison. As an adult teaching it as a a text to 12 year olds 30 years later, I found it saccharine, twee and insufferable. I will probably see the film over the lull in the Xmas holidays but I find the idea of three overlong movies (plus INTERMINABLE dvd extras) a ridiculous, cynical indulgence.

William Preston said...

It's gratifying and affirming to hear other people saying they couldn't get through LoTR. Both times I tried, I stopped partway into the second book. The turgid writing had been a problem all along, but at that point the narrative seemed to grind to a halt.

The Hobbit was, instead, just a joy. I also had that goldfoil boxed set with the Tolkien covers. (At some point, I received The Silmarillion as a gift . . . but I quickly realized that that was even more boring that LoTR.)

I have no interest in the Hobbit movies. I'd like to reread the book instead.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I first read the Hobbit when I was about ten. It was daunting in that it was one of the longest books I had read up until that point but it was a lot of fun. Tolkien created a whole world in it, one as eccentric and lived-in as our own world. Bilbo being such a reluctant hero made it easy for me to identify with him.

And it was humorous too. I remember how the Dwarves kept objecting to efforts to speed up the journey because "shortcuts take time!" There's some wisdom in that.

The Lord of the Rings on the other hand defeated me. I got about halfway through the Two Towers before I put it down and just couldn't pick it up again. It was so slow it seemed like the characters were walking across the Middle Earth in real time...

I saw the Hobbit over the weekend and loved it, by the way. Like others, I am not sure how they'll find enough to make three films out of this, but the first installment works great. It even improves on the book somewhat by filling in the backstory of how Smaug took over the Dwarves' hall in the first place. Thus, the story is no longer just a treasure hunt but a tale of the Dwarves attempting to reclaim their homeland. That gives the quest more gravitas.

It is still a fun adventure though. The scene with the three trolls is a great homage to the Three Stooges.

Anonymous said...

I actually read the LOTR trilogy a few years before reading the Hobbit. My first impression after I finished reading the Hobbit was 'hey Tolkien wrote this for kids! It's like LOTR for teenyboppers!'. His later LOTR books are much more serious in tone and scope.

There's probably a comparison here between the Hobbit/LOTR books and JK Rowling's Harry Potter series - both authors came up with books which were written initially for young readers, but as time went on (and the authors realized their audience was becoming older and more sophisticated) the subsequent books became much darker and complex.

Still, you have to give kudos to Tolkien for giving us the back story for Bilbo and Gollum. No other author has created such a rich and detailed world as Tolkien did.

As for the Hobbit movies, well, it's true that maybe it's not the best idea in the world to stretch a small book into a 9 hour trilogy, but in this case at least Peter Jackson might well get away with it. As I mentioned before, Middle Earth has such a detailed history and there's enough back story for Jackson to pad the movies. I'll try to see them with an open mind.

- Mike 'books are ALWAYS better than movies' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

Sorry, but I have to take you on here. There are loads of movies, entire genres in some cases, where the film is better.

First of all, special effects movies where the effects don’t deliver, clearly the book is going to be better, but when they do, then the movie is going to be better e.g. Jurassic Park is good book, but it was seeing on the screen that brought it to life. And Star Wars novelisations....really?

Most sci-fi is better on the screen, esp. short stories. I actually haven’t read a lot of Philip K Dick, but I can’t imagine that the book of Minority Report is better than the film. Or even Total Recall. And seriously, is ‘Do Androids’ better than Blade Runner?

Likewise, war movies are generally about spectacle.

I do prefer the book of High Fidelity to the film, but the film is brilliant. John Cusack did a great job there. About a Boy however....the film is miles better. So’s Fever Pitch.

Steven King.....where shall we begin? IT was a superb book, dreadful on film. I thought they took a better swing at the Stand, but the book was still better. However, everyone says the Shining film is better than the book. Likewise Carrie. I like the movie of Needful things, but I’ve never read the book. I think the film of Misery beat the book for me. Likewise Storm of the Century, The Dead Zone & Stand By Me. I’ve not read Dolores Claibourne, but the film was wonderfully well acted. I really enjoyed the film of 1408. Green Mile: film is better. And, in case I haven’t won this argument yet, one word: Shawshank.

As I said, all of the Harry Potters were better films. From what I’ve seen, the same applies to Twilight, although I’ve never read the books myself.

The English Patient – screenplay is way superior to the book, esp. Willem Dafoe’s character.

I’m sure I can think of more. Karen – can we have a topic on this at some point, please?


Edo Bosnar said...

Richard, I have to disagree with you right back about your own thesis, esp. about sci-fi always being better on screen. While I agree with you about novelizations (of say, Star Wars or Star Trek), I don't think the same is true of adaptations.
There's no way the movie Solaris (American version; haven't seen the Russian one) is better than Lem's novel.
And since you brought up Philip Dick (one of my favorite SF authors), whose works have been frequently adapted into movies, I'll just say - yes, I think the short story "Minority Report" is much better than the film, and the same goes for Total Recall (the Arnie version, haven't seen the other one), and even Paycheck (that's actually the best of the three movies in my opinion) - in fact, one thing I really don't like about these two films is that they just use some of Dick's basic ideas to make these testosterone-charged chase films for Cruise, Arnie and Affleck. The stories are a little more nuanced and give you more food for thought.
Blade Runner is an interesting case - I absolutely love the film, have the deluxe DVD edition, but it's only loosely based on the novel, so it's hard to really compare (although if you put hot pokers to my feet to force a choice, I think I'd still say the book is better).
I won't even go into the case of non-genre books and their adaptation, but I'll just say that there's no way any movie based on, say, something by Twain, Faulkner or Steinbeck is better than the original literary source.

Karen said...

OK guys, come back on Saturday for a special 'books vs. movies' Face-Off!

Kid said...

I thoroughly enjoyed The Hobbit when I first read it as an 11 or 12 year old kid. I've re-read it a couple of times as an adult and still enjoyed it, but I was struck by a glaring intrusion into its self-contained reality.

There's a paragraph which describes a kettle boiling, and how the steam escapes from the spout like a train shooting out of a tunnel. (Without checking, that's how I remember it.) I always considered this modern allusion as being out of place in a story that was otherwise internally consistent with itself.

I'm surprised that Tolkien included this anachronistic comparison in the first place, or that an editor didn't spot it and ask for it to be changed.

Anonymous said...

how can it be anachronistic? there's no telling whether there are or are not trains in middle earth

Kid said...

Actually, I slightly misremembered the reference, which is nothing to do with a boiling kettle, but rather a shriek. Here it is: "...he began to feel a shriek coming up inside, and very soon it burst out like the whistle of an engine bursting out of a tunnel."

If there had been trains in Middle Earth, I rather think that the Hobbits would have availed themselves of their services at some point in all the journeys that Tolkien relates in everything he ever wrote about the time and place. He didn't, apart from one anachronistic allusion to a then-modern form of transport.

That's why it's anachronistic. Hopefully my explanation has helped to dispel your lack of comprehension.

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