Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Hobbit

I've just finished reading the book that I got from my son for my birthday. Yes, I blush to admit it but although I had read it several times before, it never made it into my Tolkien collection. An oversight that I'm happy now to have corrected.

Of course, the book is back in the news now because of the trilogy of films that's been made from it. I have my own opinions about them; I watched the first one on DVD and was tutting throughout at the amount of changes that had been made (an experience that I recall having when I watched the Lord of the Rings films). I wonder why the film makers felt the need to tinker with what are rightly regarded as classics of their genre.

Still, it seems to be making them enough money and with that in mind, I don't suppose they care overmuch that Tolkien traditionalists like myself view the introduction of  'new' characters (i..e not in the books) as a kind of literary vandalism.

This grumble on my part gets us away from the fact that the book itself stands up very well to re-reading and is a fine work in its own right. It takes a slightly more light-hearted tone with authorial asides (in the same way that CS Lewis used to chat to the reader whilst writing the Narnia stories) but it cracks along at a splendid pace, never flagging or boring the reader.  Its relation to the Middle Earth mythology fell into place as Tolkien was writing it; he needed a name for the elf that they met at Rivendell and he chose Elrond, already a character in the legendarium that he had been working on since the First World War. With that, the references to Gondolin and Elvish history started to creep in, but at that point there was still no hint of the grander scheme of things that Lord of the Rings represented. In fact, this can be seen very clearly in the original chapter which dealt with the appearance of Gollum.  That Tolkien had to revise this heavily shows how he retrofitted the story of the Hobbit into the trilogy.

There's much in fantasy these days that's dark, gritty and generally grim; it takes all sorts to make a world and I don't deny anybody their right to read that kind of stuff. I dip into it myself from time to time. But the Hobbit takes us back to the 1930s, when the fantasy genre was only starting to develop into what it would one day become; it's a decent story, well-told, championing courage, friendships, truth and honour. Always recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Read it myself a couple of months ago for the first time.