Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On my reading shelf: The Hobbit

The Hobbit is a fantasy novel written by J.R.R Tolkien, a prelude to the hugely successful Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit happens to be one of the best-selling books of all time with 100 million copies sold worldwide (something I discovered only recently). It proudly sits at the fourth spot on the all time bestseller list, just one spot lower than it's famous successor. I have been wanting to read The Lord of the Rings for over a decade now. I even stopped myself from watching the movies on account of not having read the books. An unexpected trip to the Kinokuniya bookstore in Singapore last weekend finally brought an end to this long drawn wait. There I was, pleased as punch to walk out with the entire series tucked firmly under my arm. I was however surprised to see another book in my prized collection. This was a book I had never heard of (I'm embarrassed to admit). After such a long wait, I was not really looking forward to reading a book that did not have the words 'Lord' or 'Rings' in it's title since that was not my original intention.  However, a background check on the Hobbit, made me realize that this was not something to be missed and it would provide a good insight into what I could expect from the Lord of the Rings.

My thoughts....
Bilbo Baggins is a kind-hearted and respectable hobbit (hobbit = a tiny person with hairy feet) living a mundane existence in his comfortable hobbit-hole at the side of 'The Hill'. His tranquil world is turned upside down one day when the wizard Gandalf along with a team of dwarves led by Thorin whisk away the unsuspecting hobbit on a formidable adventure, one that is filled with innumerable dangers along its arduous path. Poor Bilbo is forced to deal with man-eating trolls, escape from savage goblins and wolves, hoodwink a mysterious lake creature, slay giant spiders, confront the diabolical dragon Smaug and be an unwilling participant in the Battle of Five Armies in order to reclaim the long lost Kingdom of Thor and the abundant treasure that lies within its realm. The transition of Bilbo from the timid hobbit who is initially considered by the dwarves to be a useless burden to a brave and clever leader who not only wins the respect of the dwarves but also of several other creatures due to his honesty and nobility makes for thoroughly enjoyable reading. There is a Bilbo in everyone. All of us are capable of tremendous personal growth when we are put to test under the most extreme circumstances. Bilbo is one of the most endearing characters I have come across in recent times. The combination of his admirable qualities along with a few dark traits such as secrecy, cunning and deceit makes him easy to relate to. The supporting characters are well defined and leave an impression on the reader especially those of Gandalf, Thorin, Bombur and Beorn. I realized how wrong I was to assume that this book had nothing to do with the "ring". The ring makes its debut appearance in this book and maybe even the unsung hero of the story. The only part I was a tad disappointed with was the fate of Smaug. I guess I expected a far more thrilling confrontation. Hey, don't mind me, I'm just nit-picking here!

The story is full of unexpected twists and turns and there is never a dull moment. This book is one hell of a page turner! The author sticks to a very simple style of narration and doesn't try to get too fancy with the prose. The unpretentious and straightforward approach is just as well since this book was written for children. He peppers the story with quick peeks into the future of the characters in order to capture the reader's attention. He also connects with the reader by questioning and sometimes even guessing the reader's perspective on certain aspects of the story. The author's creativity and imagination is remarkable especially for the time that this book was written. In my opinion, fantasy is not an easy genre for a writer. It does take considerable research even though a lot of it stems from the imagination. The author puts together illustrations of ancient maps, descriptions of diverse untamed landscapes and creatures of mythical origin and the way he weaves all these elements into the story demonstrates his knowledge of European historical literature, mythology, language, poetry, chronicles and Anglo-Saxon runes. In the preface, it is heartwarming to read that the author had scribbled the very first sentence of the book "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" on a blank piece of paper as an afterthought and seven years later, history was created. It is a pity that he did not live to fully appreciate the stupendous success of his work.

Now that I've finished reading The Hobbit, I can't wait to get started on the Lord of the Rings. I realize that although the book loosely follows the overall structure of The Hobbit, there are going to be major differences as the Lord of the Rings primarily belongs to adult literature. I guess I will be in for a more serious and mature reading experience. All the same, I'm raring to go!

My rating for this book is

Have you read this book? If yes, what did you think about it? I would love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment to let me know....


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