“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (lexile: 1000; AR book level: 6.6; 33o pp)
Probably no one needs me to review Tolkien’s wonderful there-and-back-again adventure of Bilbo Baggins. But today (September 21, 2012) is the 75th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of The Hobbit, reminding me how much I love this book, and how Tolkien fueled my imagination and love of well-told tales from childhood to the present.
The story (if you don’t know) concerns one rather untypical hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, who is whisked away on a quest with 13 dwarves setting out to retake the Lonely Mountain, their ancestral home, from Smaug, the fierce dragon who stole it from them long ago. And what, you ask, is a hobbit? Well, in Middle Earth, at least (where the story takes place) hobbits are small people, half the height of humans, given much more to enjoying the simple pleasures of food and garden than gathering wealth (like the dwarves) or gaining wisdom (like the elves). So poor Bilbo is quite flustered when the dwarves show up on his doorstep one day, presuming he will be their burglar, stealing treasure back from the dragon, and filling out their unlucky number.
The adventure unfolds as they journey to the Lonely Mountain, along the way encountering friends and foes, including giant spiders, wolves, trolls, and the goblins with whom they manage to stir up a war. And at one point Bilbo is separated from his companions and lost inside a mountain, where he discovers (not to spoil anything) Something-Very-Important that will prove useful in dealing with Smaug, and ultimately play a Much-Bigger-Role later in the history of Middle Earth and the stories of J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Hobbit is a beautiful, wonderful, stirring, inspiring, superbly-written tale. Tolkien has created for us a whole world, filled with characters you will grow to love and lands you’d love to visit. You will find shining examples of goodness, courage, friendship, loyalty, wisdom, and simple love of life. There are very few books beyond the Bible that I read again and again for the sheer joy they bring me: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia fill out that list.
The first of the Hobbit movies comes out November 28th. If you plan to see it, do yourself and your kids a favor: individually or as a family, read the book first. (We have two new copies of the audio book on CD in our library, as well.)