Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, illustrated by Michael Hague. Fantasy.
People who don’t enjoy Tolkien tend not to say so out loud. Maybe we each think we’re alone in our opinion, and will be lynched by his rabid fans if they find out. I know for a fact, however, that there are a great many literate, respectable people who find Tolkien tedious. And, yes, I am among them. (Not that I claim respectability; but I think I must own up to literacy.) I know that The Hobbit was written as a kids’ book, and I kept that in mind as I read. However, I have to also bear in mind that despite multiple attempts when I was a kid, I never managed to get past chapter one. This time I forced myself onwards, and overall it wasn’t so bad – except for those few moments when I almost fell asleep, and the chapters at the end when I wanted to knock one of the Dwarves on the head. Yes, Tolkien is seminal. Yes, he’s a genius world-builder. I am aware. We needed him. But this is a book review of The Hobbit and how I felt about it. And what I have to say is that I don’t particularly care about the characters and I don’t respect their reasons for risking their lives: greed and revenge both being no-gos in my personal philosophy. As for the prose style, a friend called it “affected,” and that’s a good word. It’s clear that Tolkien was trying for a very specific fairy-tale style, and he hit it bang-on…but I just don’t enjoy it. If you love him, that’s fine. This review is not for you. It’s for you other people – those of you who also struggled to get past chapter one, and were wondering if you were alone. You’re not.
“Gandalf, Gandalf! Good gracious me! Not the wandering wizard that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered? Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons? Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those! Old Took used to have them on Midsummer’s Eve. Splendid! They used to go up like great lilies and snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all evening!” You will notice already that Mr Baggins was not quite so prosy as he liked to believe, also that he was very fond of flowers. “Dear me!” he went on. “Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures? Anything from climbing trees to visiting elves – or sailing in ships, sailing to other shores! Bless me, life used to be quite inter – I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business.”
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