Monday, September 21, 2015

The Hobbit: first published September 21, 1937

The Hobbit or There and Back again by JRR Tolkien (1892-1973) was first published September 21, 1937. A fantasy novel which has gripped the imaginations of its readers since its publication. It was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and was awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. It is the quest of home-loving Bilbo Baggins to win a share of a treasure guarded by the dragon, Smaug. He is accompanied by 13 dwarves who seek to reclaim their home under the Lonely Mountain. The book was such a success that a sequel was requested by the publisher. The Lord of the Rings was published in three parts: The Fellowship of the Ring (July 29, 1954), The Two Towers (November 11, 1954) and The Return of the King (October 20, 1955) to great success and established Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the hearts and minds of generations.

The genre of The Hobbit is the narrative models of children’s literature. It is one of a handful of children’s books to be accepted into mainstream literature. Another example would be J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Although Tolkien’s books are now shelved with adult fiction while the Harry Potter series is still found in the children’s sections of bookstores. The writing style of The Hobbit is unpretentious and straightforward narrative which provides details in a down-to-earth and causal style. This style draws in the reader into the reality of Middle Earth as events of a past long ago rather than a mystical world of another place.

Tolkien was highly influenced by William Morris’ reconstructions of early Germanic life in The House of the Wolfings (1888) and The Roots of the Mountains (1889). Character names such as "Gandolf" and the horse Silverfax were used by Tolkien as tribute to Morris. Tolkien’s The Necromancer was influenced by Samuel Rutherford Crockett’s The Black Douglas (1899), a tale about the fall of the great House of Douglas is the focus of this romance set in 15th century Scotland. George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin (1872) influenced Tolkien to create his goblins. MacDonald’s works also influenced Tolkien’s thinking on the role of fantasy with his Christian faith. Tolkien drew heavily from mythology. In particular, Norse mythology for the Dwarfish runes. Also the Old English epic poem of Beowulf, the hero of the Geats who comes to the aid of the king of the Danes to defeat the monster Grendel. Beowulf is the oldest surviving poem (8th – early 11th century) in Old English and is cited as one of the most important works of Old English literature. Tolkien was among the first to present Beowulf as literature not just history in his lecture Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics (1936), a lecture which is still required reading in some Old English courses.

There are many themes present in The Hobbit. Some scholars believe that the book is a parable for Tolkien’s World War I experiences. The hero who is plucked from his home, thrown into a far-off war with traditional types of heroism were futile and ingenuity helps him survive.  The classic quest which tests the hero’s strength, resolve and abilities to see it though. The quest also influences the maturity and personal growth of Bilbo by the novel’s end is in contrast with the dwarves’ arrested development. Bilbo learns to survive by his wits and stands up in the face of great danger. Bilbo learns to overcome greed and selfishness in order to prevent war over greed for the treasure.

The Hobbit has never been out of print and is considered a classic among other works like The Pilgrim’s Progress, Gone with the Wind, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and many and many others. It was named the most original and best fantasy ever written by the Schools Library Association. It is geared toward boys between 11-14 years old; however, every one of all ages can enjoy Tolkien’s books. Of course, the Peter Jackson’s films have helped bring Middle Earth to broader audience. If you have never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, I highly recommend it.