Friday, January 22, 2010

LOTR Readalong: The Hobbit

Eva at The Striped Armchair is our host this month and she has helpfully posted some prompts for the rest of the reading company.

Where are you in the story? So far, has the book lived up to your expectations (for first-timers)/memories (for rereaders)? What’s surprising or familiar? I finished this in about two days. What a pleasure to read it again for the umpteenth time! I first read it in 8th grade because I had a big crush on a cute boy in my Spanish class, and he was reading it, and I figured if I read it, too, that would give us something to talk about. Nothing much ever came of that strategy, and there's no telling what ever happened to him (last I heard he was working with Shamu at Sea World, I kid you not). But that small beginning led me to a lifelong love of Tolkien and all of my very best times in college, so I am eternally grateful.

This book truly gets more enjoyable every time I read it. I had forgotten about Beorn (clearly a vegetarian but not a vegan, which I never really noticed before), and Bard, and the thrush, and the secret moon runes, and Durin's Day. I remembered Gollum, of course, and the dangerousness of repartee with dragons, and the dark acquisitiveness in the hearts of dwarves. I remembered how different the tone and even the characters are from LOTR, but I still enjoyed seeing again the roots of who Gandalf and the others will become. The elves, in particular, are much sillier than I remembered, and not much like the ones we see later. I paid special attention to the descriptions of Elrond's house, too, knowing how important that will prove in the future books.

There has been some discussion in the group of the riddle games, how they are a well-known contest form and no one ever dares to cheat, and I'd love to research that some day. A quick Google informs me that there are quite a few Anglo-Saxon riddles preserved in Old and Middle English literature, and that makes a lot of sense. Tolkien's scholarship in languages and ancient English cultures always comes through: almost everything he does has an antecedent in real history, if you know how to find it. I think this kind of historical grounding gives a lot of depth to his work, almost the feeling of the collective unconscious at work. Those are my people, and their methods and rituals speak to me in a powerful way, even as Tolkien refracts them through his own imaginative lens.

Have you been bogged down anywhere in the book? Oh my goodness, no! It reads like a dream. Lots of shift and flow, with pauses only where appropriate.

Let’s talk about the songs…are you skipping over them to get back to the prose? Why or why not? I enjoy the songs and relish the clues they offer to past and future action, although the songs in this book aren't nearly as insightful as those in LOTR. There has been discussion in the group about the pros and cons of audio books, so the songs can be heard and sung instead of being just words on a page. I'm tempted, although I usually dislike audio books because the voices can be so cheesy (I like to keep them in my head). But for these songs, it might be worth it. I'm seriously considering it.

What do you think of the narrator’s voice? I enjoy it. It lends a nice little frame to the action and keeps the tone very personal, which is appropriate for the relative lightness of this fairy-tale story.

Does your edition have illustrations or maps? Have you been ignoring them or referring back to them? My edition has both illustrations and a map, and I've enjoyed checking them out as they come along. They are Tolkien's own, which I like. I just wish they could work those moon letters! Now THAT would be something.

Now it’s time to play favourites! Who’s your favourite main character? Who’s your favourite minor character (i.e.: villains, random helpers, etc.)? What’s your favourite scene? Do you have a favourite quote to share? I'm partial to Gandalf, although Bilbo is clearly the (reluctant) hero of the piece. I had not noticed--or had forgotten--how Balin is always extra-kind and helpful, and takes risks to help Bilbo out on several occasions. So I'd say he's my favorite minor character.

Oddly enough, my favorite scene has to be the one with the trolls, Tom, Bert, and William. It is just laugh-out-loud funny.

"Blimey, Bert, look what I've copped!" said William.

"What is it?" said the others coming up.

"Lumme, if I knows! What are yer?"

"Bilbo Baggins, a bur -- a hobbit," said poor Bilbo, shaking all over . . .

"A burrahobbit?" said they a bit startled. . . .

"What's a burrahobbit got to do with my pocket, anyways?" said William.

"And can yer cook 'em?" said Tom.

This whole scene just makes me giggle every time.

I really enjoyed Bilbo's self-naming to avoid giving his real name to Smaug (there's that historical/literary antecedent stuff again; "Noman" Odysseus, anyone?). I also really love the nobility of Thorin and Bilbo's last meeting. It's a little sampling of what's to come in LOTR.

I've quoted various sayings from this book on many occasions since 8th grade, most notably "Third time pays for all." And that's pretty good value, I'd say.


  1. Hi - I love your answers to Eva's questions. I was guilty of posting before I read them. I must admit, I'm not fond of the dwarves, but you're right about Balin. He and Thorin are the only two that stick in my mind - and Thorin only because our late cats' breeders pedigree name was 'Oakenshield'!

  2. LOL! The way you got introduced to Tolkien was very amusing!!

    You said it right, the tone of this book is so much lighter than the LOTR books! And I don't like audiobooks either for the same reason as you!

    Great post! Ah hoy!

  3. Hahahaha, your story about your 8th grade crush made me laugh out loud. Isn't it crazy the things people end up doing?

  4. I love Rivendell but the elves are a bit lacking in this book. I think I associate them more with the other books so I don't feel I'm missing too much of them here. I'm looking forward to re-reading the rest of the books!


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