I am writing a review of an 80-year-old novel.
It’s older than me. Odds are, it’s older than you. And yet, it’s still read, and it’s still revered around the world as one of the masterpieces of literature.
I can’t disagree. This is my second reading of The Hobbit (or, There and Back Again). I was a teenager the first time I read it, and it was already old then. It’s older now, and so am I.
My memories of the novel is that it was much lighter and airier than The Lord of the Rings, and that it involved Eagles and Elves and dwarfs and goblins. I remembered it as a children’s story. I was still pretty much a child when I read it the first time.
Upon this second reading, prompted by Alastair Stephens and his There and Back Again podcast, I stand by this assessment. It is a children’s story, with talking animals and, at times, whimsical narration. But, it is much more than a children’s story. It is not a bedtime story meant to be read to children to give them moral lessons and make them feel like all is right with the world. There is a lot of darkness here. Spiders in the Mirkwood, Smaug under his mountain, Beorn in his skin-changing ways, Gandalf with his casual abandonment, Thorin with his avarice that misplaces friendship.
Not that most fairy tales skimp on darkness, however. I would imagine that Tolkien himself would argue that children needed a little bit of darkness in their stories. Certainly the Brothers Grimm saw it that way. So did the Brothers Hildebrandt, whose art first attracted me to the stories of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
Good (with the capital G) must be offset by Evil. And, in The Hobbit, that is personified by Smaug and the assorted goblins.
Still, this is much lighter in tone, and in scope, than Tolkien’s magnum opus. Comparatively, it is a children’s story. And I love it for this property that defines it.
I’m about to embark on a second (possibly a third) reading of The Lord of the Rings. And this little novel informs that bigger work. I’ve always said that I preferred the tone of The Hobbit over that of LOTR. We’re about to see if that still holds true.
The Hobbit is part of the back story of Tolkien’s later work. You need to know the story of Bilbo to better appreciate Frodo’s journey. And I appreciated it this time, on a much deeper level than in my initial reading. This is good stuff.
At this rate, I’ll read it again when I’m in my 80s.
I still won’t be the only one reading it. Even then.