February 22, 2012

The Hobbit

Two birds with one stone with this one. This book satisfies the requirements of both the TBR Double Dare and my book club.  Of course, the meeting for this one isn't until next month, but there you go.

If you hadn't heard, Mr. Tolkien made up this story for his children however many years ago and it has been a popular and classic addition to our culture ever since.  Of course I've always meant to read it but it wasn't until C.B. poked me with his Double Dare stick that I finally got around to it.  I give no credit to my cronies in the book club; I had it on my TBR list before they added it to this year's slate of books.  Obviously many others want to catch up before the new movie versions make their way to theaters.

Briefly, long ago there were in fact elves and magical dwarfs and dragons and wizards and a little people called hobbits.  One of their number, a Mr. Bilbo Baggins, is gently tricked by the wizard Gandalf to accompany a crew of Dwarfs through the Misty Mountains and help them defeat a greedy dragon named Smaug so they can reclaim their rightful home.  How is this quiet little hobbit supposed to do this?  By burglaring of course.  It seems incidental that he has no actual experience as a burglar.  Lucky for him (but unlucky for his cousin Frodo in later tales) he happens upon a magic ring that allows him to become invisible.  This is clearly an advantage in his pursuits as a burglar.

So we have fantasy elements along with the time-honored tradition of basic greed.  What set this far above other, similar tales, is the beautiful and rich way it is told and the warm and striking figure of Bilbo.  I liked it even more than expected.  I thought it would pale in comparison to the Lord of the Rings, but in some ways it is actually better.  It's obviously a tighter story but the character of Bilbo is even more compelling than that of Frodo in the later tales.

For the record, I listened to the Rob Inglis audiobook version and I can't recommend it enough.  I'm sure the ensemble recordings available now are good as well, but this guy was amazing.  He apparently did the whole Lord of the Rings as well which I may have to get to someday.  It was an brilliant performance.