The Hobbit: 75 Years On

My dear People. My dear Bagginses and Boffins, and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks, and Grubbs, and Chubbs, and Burrowses, and Hornblowers, and Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses and Proudfoots. (Proudfeet!) Today is the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit!

I can’t remember when I first read The Hobbit, which will shock you all I know, but I do remember enjoying it immensely. It’s a fantastic book, and whilst it isn’t as epic in scope or adult in nature as Tolkien’s follow up The Lord of the Rings, it is still a great work that inspires and entertains children and adults 75 years on. What is it about Tolkien’s writing, about his little book about tiny creatures that so enthralls us?

For me, I suppose it’s the sense of world building, in part. Tolkien’s world is so real, even while there are mountains of supernatural elements to them. He blends fact with fantasy seamlessly and that is especially important in a children’s books, since children are very good at blending fact with fantasy, as anyone who has listened to any child talk for more than ten minutes will know. In a world where there are ankle-grabbing monsters under the bed and fairies at the bottom of the garden, people who creep in children’s bedrooms at night and exchange money for teeth or gifts for being good (side note: why are the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas so damn creepy? I mean, seriously!), Tolkien’s world stand apart and yet instantly is a world that children understand. All the great writers of fantasy are able to do this, but Tolkien is master of them all.

But there’s also the fact that Bilbo is so normal. He’s very normal. He could be you or me. That knock on the door just then could be Gandalf (let’s face it, it’s more likely to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, but we can dream) coming to whisk you away on the Quest of the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo is a reluctant hero, who gets thrown into scrapes and adventures, and for the most part comes out of it well. Much of the time he’s not even being all that heroic – at the Battle of Five Armies he gets knocked out and spends most of the time unconcious, till he’s found later (I’m sure this was the inspiration for Tyrion being knocked out by his own wild men in Game of Thrones, by the way). He does come up good when it gets to danger – he manages to save the dwarves from the giant spiders in Mirkwood and he does face the dragon, Smaug, and walk away unroasted. But for the majority of the time, he’s simply quite an unhappy and mistreated hobbit, who is in the middle of things he can’t control. If any child wants to know what it would be like to be cast in an adventure, let them read The Hobbit. It’s not glamorous, particularly, but it’s as true to life as you can get in a world with giant eagles, elves, orcs, and dragons.

It is an adventure though, and that’s what draws people in. We’ve got a normal type of character, one we can all sort of relate to, in a fantastically built world that blends fiction and fact without you being able to tell where one begins and the other ends, and he goes off on quite an epic adventure. The scale of what happens in The Hobbit and what is foreshadowed is huge, especially considering this was a book Tolkien wrote in the first instance for his own children, and that probably explains why 3 films are needed to carry the plot of a book which is only 310 pages long. Compare that to the 531 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring, the 416 pages of The Two Towers, and the 624 pages of The Return of the King and it’s surprising how much is crammed into that little book.

There’s the other thing though. The protagonist is almost certainly little, and by comparison to The Lord of the Rings considered as one entity of 1571 pages, The Hobbit seems small. But the book is actually quite long, especially for a children’s book, but I think that’s another great thing about it. I’ve read it to someone at bedtime, and it kept us going for months without either me (having read it before) or the listener (who hadn’t) losing the slightest interest in the story. That’s entertainment you can’t always get these days. It’s long, though not overly so, but with all its length, it’s still fascinating.

So, that’s four reasons why The Hobbit is such a great book and so worthy of celebration. I’d say more, so much more, but it’s time for my second breakfast. Good morning!

What are your memories of reading The Hobbit? Why do you think it’s still a children’s favourite? What’s your favourite moment in the book? Those not commenting will be fed to Smaug.

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