I remember the first time I read The Hobbit. It was 8th grade, the same year I was exposed to "The Pit and the Pendulum". Perhaps Poe and Tolkien both influenced my love of writing dark fantasy, as it was the following year that I started working on my first (rather horrible) novel. I loved The Hobbit then, and I still do now. The songs, the riddles, the races, the world, and above all the adventure.
"The Hobbit's enduring appeal to children of all ages is exceptional; it is a book with ample craftsmanship and depth to reward repeated readings and a nearly perfect lure into the larger mythos of Middle-earth" (Mathews 60). I couldn't agree more with everything in this statement from Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. I have read The Hobbit several times, and I don't think I will ever tire of it. Most importantly, though, it is a story that is a great read for children and adults, just like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
As I read through it this time, I really saw deeper into the appeal of the adventure and the dichotomy within Bilbo. First, there is the Baggins side of Bilbo. This represents the adult--serious, responsible, and happy to enjoy the comforts of home. Bilbo's Took side, on the other hand, is pure child. It's the side of him that is tempted by the idea of adventure, no matter how uncomfortable and dangerous it might be. "Then Mr. Baggins turned the handle and went in. The Took side had won. He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce" (Tolkien 18). Children can instantly connect to the Tookish side of Bilbo, the fun and adventurous side. And adults can recognize it too, since there is usually a little Took in all of us, even once we've grown up, buried deep within the responsibility of the Baggins half.
The Took side obviously wins out, with a bit of trickery from Gandalf, and Bilbo runs off on his adventure. And what an adventure it is! The Baggins side invades many times, yearning for the comforts of home, but Bilbo continues on. Throughout the entire book you have a constant rising and falling action: captured by trolls, escape the trolls, captured by goblins, escape the goblins, Bilbo stumbles across Gollum who wants to eat him, and he escapes Gollum as well. And that's in just the first third of the book. Right along this rising and falling action, Bilbo and party are going over and under mountains, up and down trees, through forests and down rivers. Their journey is a perfect mirror for that rising and falling action. Bilbo says it best: "I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led" (Tolkien 221).
Child or adult, it's easy to get sucked into Bilbo's adventures. "Tolkien married the adventure fantasy with epic: suddenly, the journey on which the participants embarked had world-shattering consequences" (Mendlesohn and James 48). This statement mostly refers to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but The Hobbit also has those world-changing consequences. How can a quest that would ultimately disturb an ancient and terrible dragon not? At the end of the book the goblins are nearly wiped out due to a war over the treasure. It's an epic end to an exciting adventure, and I look forward to the next time I read The Hobbit.
Mathews, Richard. Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. Routledge: New York, 2002.
Mendlesohn, Farah and Edward James. A Short History of Fantasy. Middlesex University Press: London, 2009.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. Ballantine Books: New York, 1989.
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