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The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Introduction to The Hobbit

Hobbits, by reputation, are homebodies who like a double breakfast, a nice cup of tea, a pipe to blow smoke rings and a peaceful life devoid of adventure. Short, a bit round in the belly with naturally leathery soles and furry feet, hobbits are creatures who move quickly and quietly. A respectable hobbit, Bilbo Baggins enjoys the comforts of hobbit life, but all that’s about to change when a wizard and a small army of dwarfs knock on the door of his hobbit-hole home, bribing him with an adventure he simply can’t resist. Written in 1937, The Hobbit is a charming introduction to J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic world of hobbits, dwarfs, wizards, goblins, elves, and other fantastical creatures inhabiting Middle-earth.

Story Line

Bilbo Baggins, a well-to-do hobbit who enjoys robust repasts and a cozy little home in the Shire, is content with his peaceful life until the wizard Gandalf knocks at his door. To Bilbo’s astonishment, Gandalf proposes that the little hobbit take on a most exciting and profitable adventure. Bilbo quickly, albeit politely, defers until he is swept up in another unexpected visit from not one, but thirteen dwarfs. Sidestepping any formal ceremony, the dwarfs anxiously inquire whether they can hire Bilbo to be their burglar and retrieve their forefather’s treasures stolen by the evil dragon Smaug.

Initially determined to deny the dwarfs’ request for him to accompany them on a perilous quest of retaliation, Bilbo finds the more rebellious side of his family pedigree (the Tookish side) intrigued, and so he surrenders to the lure of the adventure (noting he should be amply rewarded if he doesn’t die along the way). Traveling by donkey through forests, along rivers, and across dark terrain, Bilbo becomes acquainted with dwarf tradition, finds a magic ring that makes him invisible, and survives encounters with a variety of fantastical creatures. He trades riddles with a creature named Gollum, outwits a trio of trolls, wars with goblins and wolves, wields a knife against gigantic spiders, plans a daring prison escape by barrel, and fearlessly steals treasures from a greedy dragon.

As if dealing with a fierce dragon were not enough adventure to bring to close this daring undertaking, the weary band of dwarfs and hobbits are swept up into a fierce battle with the goblins. In a vengeful rage over the slaying of their king, the goblins descend upon the mountain in what Tolkien describes as a “tide of rage and fury.” The sudden assault leads to a climactic clashing of weapons in the Battle of Five Armies where elves, dwarves, and men unite to war against the ferocious goblins and wolves. Bilbo Baggins has never witnessed such a horrific sight and wishes desperately for his hobbit hole under the hill. Yet, despite the final outcome of the battle, it’s clear that he will return to his Shire a very different kind of hobbit.

Author J. R. R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa January 3, 1892, but returned to England at the age of four when his father died. Early in life, young Ronald, as his family called him, demonstrated a love for languages mastering Greek, Latin, Finish, and Gothic. He spent time creating pretend languages for his own enjoyment.

Tolkien’s passion for academia earned him degrees from both Exeter College and Oxford University before he enlisted to serve in World War I. Returning from the war he started a professorship at Oxford University teaching English Literature, specializing in Old and Middle English languages.

Meanwhile, Tolkien continued to write and develop his own languages and mythological stories, which he shared with his children. The tale of the little hobbit was eventually written down and published in 1937. The Hobbit met with critical success launching the career of a beloved storyteller and his make-believe world. Tolkien died September 2, 1973, in Oxford, England. (Source: The Tolkien Society)

The Hobbit Movie

December 14, 2012 is the opening date for the much-anticipated Peter Jackson version of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Although debuting as an animated musical television special in 1977, this will be the first live action movie version of the beloved classic. Similar to the successful live action Lord of the Rings movies, The Hobbit will be divided into three epic films, the first being The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

My Recommendation

Who doesn’t love a hobbit? Especially a hobbit who is a bit blustery, somewhat attached to his personal comforts and a closet adventurer. An endearing character, Bilbo seems to have an uncanny knack to out riddle and out negotiate the most frightening of creatures, and he does it with humility, wit, courage, and a magic ring that makes him invisible.

The Hobbit is a delightful read-a-loud that I shared with my children as a bedtime story. Tolkien also shared the story of the hobbit with his children, who, when asking questions about this unique type of fantasy creature, unknowingly put their father to the task of answering important details, such as: What exactly does it look like? What does it eat? Where does it live? The questions from his children mixed with Tolkien’s’ own interest in developing languages and mythology helped create original and unique fantasy epics that would engage readers all over the world for years to come.

While there is little violent graphic detail, there are battle scenes involving the deaths of some of the characters. The destruction and death caused by an epic war and the ravages of the dragon on a village may be disturbing to very young children.

In my research, I found that this book has been recommended by publishers and others for ages 8 and up, 10 and up, and 12 and up. However, based on the fact that both Tolkien and I read it as a bedtime story, I feel comfortable recommending this book for ages 10 and up. I feel strongly that this book is a great read for kids 10 and up, and for accelerated readers who love fantasy, I daresay 8 and up. (Haughton Mifflin, 2001. ISBN: 9780618150823)

More Resources From Your Children’s Books Guide Elizabeth Kennedy

There are a number of editions of The Hobbit particularly suitable for young people. Some contain the stylized illustrations of J.R.R. Tolkien, several include artwork by children’s book illustrators and one is illustrated by an artist who has done a great deal of Tolkien-related books and projects. To learn more, read 5 Best Editions of The Hobbit for Young People.

Adults who are interested in learning more about J.R.R. Tolkien and his fantasy world may be interested in reading J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey and Tolkien in the Land of Heroes by Anne Petty. Teachers will find The Hobbit Questions for Study and Discussion a helpful resource. You may also enjoy these quotations from The Hobbit.

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