The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien – A Reading Journal

Houghton Mifflin Company Edition(Houghton Mifflin Company Edition)

Although I’ve heard of The Hobbit many times throughout my life, I didn’t read it until recently. I’m not really sure why. I think I started it at least once, because I remember reading about the hobbit hole in the ground and just imagining how awesome it would be to live in a house like that. Round doors, long halls, entire rooms dedicated to holding food and drinks…who wouldn’t want to live in one and have such a leisurely lifestyle?? But that’s about as far as I got. I don’t remember reading anything before the description of Bilbo’s house (there is a brief conversation with Gandalf), learning about Bilbo’s lineage, or anything that happened after probably the second knock at his door. Basically I must have only read three maybe four pages. For some reason I thought I’d read at least the entire first chapter…I’ve come to the conclusion that I either really didn’t like it, or I just slightly didn’t like it and I had something else to read that was more intriguing. The second definitely seems more likely, knowing myself.

You may have seen in my [2013: Goals] post that The Hobbit and its successor, The Lord of the Rings (I will be referring to the book as LOTR and not as a trilogy, because it was separated only for publishing purposes) are both on my to-read list for this year, and are also the only books on my actual goals list. I didn’t want to put too many specific goals on my list, mostly because I really want to accomplish them, and I don’t want to set myself up for failure. This is really the first year I’m doing an actual list of goals, and I want to start off with a feeling of accomplishment and challenge myself a little more as the years go on…nothing wrong with that!

I’ve owned a copy of The Hobbit for quite awhile (the one pictured above), but recently bought a new copy in the same collection as my Lord of the Rings editions.

20130218-104447.jpg
My copy is not pristine anymore. I lugged it around in my purse for a week, but I’m not one of those readers who has to have books in perfect condition. I love having books that have been read, experienced, and loved. I like underlining and dog-earing and sticky-noting my books (but I haven’t always done).

I really knew next to nothing about Tolkien, except that he had a fascination with the languages of old, and that it’s said he created an entire language which he uses in the Lord of the Rings (elvish). Already he seemed fascinating to me, so I did a little bit of research about his life (something I’d like to start doing more often)!I

First of all, JRR stands for John Ronald [?] and his last name is pronounced Tol-Keen (I’m guilty of saying Tol-Ken). I found a very helpful summary of his life here, and a great youtube video by WordsOfAReader here, but I will run through some of the things I found most interesting about his life below::

-He was born in South Africa and lived there until he was four, but his parents were English and they moved back there after the death of his father.

– He had a significant and traumatic incident with a large spider with living in South Africa, which may explain some of the tendencies of arachnids making appearances in his work.

-His linguistic talents presented themselves at a very early age. His fascination with words began watching coal cars pass as a child, and he mastered both Latin and Greek very early. He also studied several other languages (German (Gothic), Finnish, Old and Middle English) as well as began to play around with creating his own languages.

-His fascination with an ancient earth, and where the term ‘Middle-Earth’ comes from Crist of Cynewulf (Old English):

“Eala Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended”

Middangerd was an ancient expression for the everyday world between Heaven above and Hell below. (Direct Quote from website mentioned above)

-Tolkien went to war in the early 1900s, fought in trenches, and suffered from ‘Trench Fever’, which he had trouble recovering from. Most of his closest boyhood friends died in the war.

-He had a job working on the Oxford English Dictionary in its early stages, but didn’t stay long and became an Associate Professor of English Language in 1920, until 1925 when he was appointed Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, a lifestyle that suited him.

-He had many published works, mostly smaller books of stories or letters, and a few academic essays, that aren’t very popular in the shadow of his later works.

-The Hobbit was not published until Tolkien was 41, and was extremely successful straight away, and has been ever since. The story evolved as he told it to his four children, and he was encouraged to finish it by all who he shared it with. The story burst forth from the leading sentence of the book: ‘In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit’.

-Tolkien worked on other pieces, publishing ‘Quenta Simarillion’ (Now known as ‘Simarillion’) before being urged by his publisher to focus on a sequel to The Hobbit, which he then did, writing LOTR for 16 years.

Probably what surprised me the most about The Hobbit, before I even started it, is how little I actually knew about the plot. This is one of the most popular young fiction books around, and I’d heard lots of people gush about how good it is, especially since the release of the first Hobbit movie, but I still knew next to nothing. All I knew was that Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, goes on an adventure and Gandalf is there and somehow, someway, Bilbo comes across The Ring. That’s it.

Honestly, I wasn’t as impressed with this book as I’d expected to be. The writing was strangely detached (not in a bad way), that made it just an adventure story rather than an emotional one. We don’t really get to see what the characters are feeling, only what they do.

Bilbo is an unlikely hero and acts as an ‘underdog’ character, which drives the story forward and gives us its only emotional tie in the end. Although we meet other characters with motives and victories, we aren’t led by the writing to care much for their successes emotionally. It is this trait that makes me believe this book would be much better for a younger audience; young readers who still have wild imaginations and read at a slower pace would be able to embellish the adventures that are left quite bare, literally (as in literary).

I guess I learned a little bit about myself as I read this book – I am a reader who craves an emotional connection with her stories. While I can appreciate a stark, bare-bones adventure (it reminds me a bit of Treasure Island in tone or The Lost World, or Journey to the Center of the Earth…that type of story), I just didn’t click with this one. It was good enough to finish, but I’m not sure I’ll read it again.

I’m hoping the The Lord of the Rings is a little more embellished and emotional, but I’m still planning on reading the entire trilogy regardless. Anyone else have a similar feeling reading The Hobbit? Is there any hope for LOTR being more emotionally enthralling?

Keep reading,
•Emma