Monday, December 22, 2014

"The Hobbit: Or, There and Back Again" by J.R.R. Tolkien

      The Hobbit: Or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien is by no means a new book, however with the release of the latest installment of the Hobbit movie trilogy, I find myself growing nostalgic for the original text. For many people, this book tends to hold a special place in their heart as it has become one of the classic introductions to the fantasy literature genre--a story to keep returning to when other sources of fantasy literature have become exhausted.
      Tolkien originally wrote the story for his children, however after it was published in 1937 it attracted a large and enthusiastic following of adult readers. And it is absolutely clear why this is the case, as the story of magic, danger, adventure, and battle has the addition of a main character who so often seems so out of place in this world of magic, danger, adventure, and (eventual) war. As a principle character, Bilbo Baggins is small, unassuming, and ordinary; possessing no fantastic magical talents, no supernatural strength or speed, no real superpowers of any kind (beyond that of being rather clever). He is average: a metaphor for the every day person who may not see themselves as extraordinary. 
      But Bilbo is extraordinary. Indeed in the course of the story, the reader sees Bilbo pushed into situations of extreme danger and fantastical adventure and using his cleverness and wits he manages to talk his way out of the danger. Rather than constantly relying on being a 100% morally upright person, Bilbo quickly realises that he is going to need to adapt his cleverness to be somewhat morally ambiguous in order to achieve victory. Bilbo becomes a metaphor for ordinary people, who are capable of extraordinary things and who are pushed into situations that require the use of alternative thinking in order to circumvent bad situations and gain results that are beneficial for the greater good. And indeed Bilbo is identifiable with such ordinary people wishing to engage in an epic adventure. He becomes a source of catharsis, allowing people to live this desire for adventure vicariously through an unlikely literary hero.
      The Hobbit is a story that focuses on the dual nature of situations: loyalty and betrayal, appearance and deception, peace and war, truth and lies, etc. It is often relegated to the backseat, labeled frequently as "just a prequel" to The Lord of the Rings, however it is the story that doesn't just lay the groundwork for the story line in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but has practically become the definition of the fantasy genre itself. Tolkien's writing has influenced authors such as Neil Gaiman, Terry Brooks, and Stephen R. Donaldson and musicians such as Led Zepplin, Rush, and Mostly Autumn. Tolkien's writing generated and ensured an audience that would latch onto later fantasy works by such authors as J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, and Phillip Pullman. The fantasy genre has become a massive subculture of fantastical worlds set in the past, present, and future, and magical culture--and it all points back to one author's imagination, wit, and research into ancient literature. J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit started it all.
The Hobbit: Or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien is available at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

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