Did you find the book’s second half consistent to the first, in tone, plotting, etc.? I think the tone is consistent all the way through--kind of grandfatherly, with a strong story-telling voice--but the plot sure gets going after a rather slow start-up. The adventures definitely build as the book progresses, from the relatively minor encounter with trolls to the full-fledged Battle of the Five Armies. Quite a difference in scale, there! And it's interesting that when the adventures are smaller, Bilbo's role is larger. Once things expand to a grander scale, his role is reduced. Even when he's the "hero" of the tale, he still stays in his place, so to speak.
What did you think of the ending? I like the finality provided by Gandalf's visit, at the end, particularly when melded with my own knowledge from the LOTR books. It's a major plot point in the future that Gandalf suspects Bilbo's Ring is more than a trinket almost from the moment it appears; we find out later that even while Gandalf and Balin are chatting with Bilbo about how things are going in Dale, Gandalf has the Rangers on duty, watching and protecting the Shire, and he himself is investigating lore, trying to confirm his suspicions, and keeping a sharp eye on Bilbo. So the lighthearted tone--Bilbo considers his adventure a fine thing, never be repeated except as a parlour story, spends his share of the dwarves' wealth on presents for his nieces and nephews, loans his mailcoat to the local museum, and uses the Ring to avoid unwanted visitors--is especially poignant.
It's also made me think about whether this book fits the classic quest novel format: traditionally the hero who goes on a journey returns from his adventures with a boon for his community. Does the Ring count as a boon? It certainly doesn't benefit anyone but Bilbo, who only puts it to relatively minuscule uses.
On the other hand, Bilbo's possession of the Ring could be considered a tremendous boon for all of Middle Earth. If not for Bilbo finding the Ring and taking it into hiding in the Shire (even if unintentionally), it would have almost certainly come into the Enemy's possession and that would have been the end of everything except the reign of evil.
Even so, the Ring isn't a traditional boon; it's more like a double-edged sword.
Did your view of any character change since our last check-in? Not at all. This book is well-known to me so it held no surprises. However, it's been eye-opening to hear what others say: how good the audio books are, apparently, and the movies. I've strenuously avoided both so as not to compromise the pictures in my head, but I think I will have to investigate, since so many other devotees say how good they are.
What surprised you most in this half of the book? What delighted you most? No real surprises--I've probably read it 10 times before--but I always enjoy Smaug's dangerous personality and Thorin's nobility on his deathbed. Thorin comes off as rather a pompous jerk at the outset, but he rises to the grand gesture when it's called for, and makes a suitably royal peace with Bilbo at the last. That never fails to move me.
Can you see yourself rereading The Hobbit some day? Of course!
Are you planning on continuing on to The Fellowship of the Ring? Absolutely. (To be honest, I've already finished all of the LOTR books--once I get going, they're so good I can't pace myself.)
Would you say that doing a group read enriched your reading? Anything in particular written by a fellow participant that stands out? Again, everyone loves the songs on the audio versions, and I've been inspired to dare some of the movie clips on You Tube. I've definitely learned that from my fellow readers, and I've enjoyed all their comments and perspectives.