Rereadings: The Hobbit
At some point in high school, long after I should have enjoyed The Hobbit on some childhood summer’s day, I picked up J.R.R. Tolkien’s first novel of hobbits and Tookish adventures. It was in the heat of Peter Jackson mania and many of my friends, while heretofore displaying no signs of Tolkien fangirlishness, had suddenly transformed into the sort of people who dressed up as elves to attend midnight film screenings. And I with them! It seemed only fair that I should read some Tolkien before braving the plastic-elf-ear-wearing hoards, so thus I went into The Hobbit, determined to do the reading properly and from the very beginning.
As it turned out, I only managed to read the series through to the middle of The Two Towers before losing all interest and deciding that Tolkien not being my cup of tea was just as all right as loving him to the point of wearing fake ears. So I walked away from the series and never thought twice of my decision. Whenever asked about my thoughts on Tolkien (which was quite often in that atmosphere!), I loyally stated my affection for The Hobbit and, to a slightly lesser extent, The Fellowship of the Ring while maintaining my inability to care for The Lord of the Rings much beyond Helm’s Deep. I found more commiseration than expected, but also some scoffing and at least one teacher memorably telling me that that was all to be expected since I was girl and The Lord of the Rings was more of a guy thing anyway.
And while that may well be, I came through the whole experience never separating The Hobbit from The Lord of the Rings nor ever considering it as its own piece of literature. My first reading of The Hobbit had occurred in the context of Tolkien everything, where it could not be separated from The Lord of the Rings and thus not really examined or appreciated as its own novel. It was perceived merely a prelude to The Lord of the Rings and, by many, as a less serious and more childish prelude at that. Unfortunately, I bought into this shoving of the books all together (perpetuated by rereleased editions of the books with matching covers and taglines pasted on The Hobbit reading things like “The Enchanting Prelude to ‘The Lord of the Rings’!”) and did not turn to The Hobbit again.
Some years later, my cousin’s six-year-old daughter informed me in a solemn whisper that she was reading “There and Back Again.” I smirked at her, amused by her use of the subtitle, and asked, “You mean The Hobbit?” She nodded equally solemnly and then tripped off to some other activity (apparently describing her reading habits to her twenty-something cousin did not rank high up on her list of interesting things to do with her time), leaving me to reconsider The Hobbit, this time for the first time by itself. I fondly remembered it. It was my favorite part of the series, for I still thought of it thus, and I resolved to give it another try.
Rereading The Hobbit was like reading it for the first time. I remembered so little of it that every plot twist was made new again and I became happily reacquainted with each character and place. Best of all, Tolkien’s prose, which seemed overly descriptive to me once upon a time, now proved quite beautiful. The Hobbit may well be written more simply than the rest of his books, but I think it shines for it. It is a book made to be read aloud; the prose becomes even better when given audible voice. It was by turns exciting, academic, and Morgensternish (particularly his asides, of course). I almost couldn’t believe how much more I loved The Hobbit when I separated it from The Lord of the Rings!
But most of all, in rereading The Hobbit I realized how much I would have loved it when I was little! Where had it been when I spent my summers reading incessantly and dreaming of fantastical foreign lands? It would have been even more amazing! To make up for lost time, it may just become a book that I reread every year or so and you can bet than any child of mind will receive its lovely words read aloud just before bedtime.
I think The Hobbit is unique in that most everyone has read it, but I’ve never seen it taught in schools (which is why I think most everyone has read To Kill a Mockingbird and Macbeth). This makes it both universal and personal to each reader in a great way. So I’m dying to know! What are your memories of The Hobbit? When did you first read it and what do you make of it?
This essay is a part of LT’s “Rereadings” series that has a new post every other Friday. Reread one of your favorites lately? Tell us about it at literarytransgressionsATgmail.com!