Should You Read The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien?

The cover of The Hobbit, showing snow-topped mountains on a dark background with a red circle at the center, perhaps representing the sun.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

– Opening of The Hobbit

The Hobbit is a fantasy book originally intended for children but that has gained a lot of popularity as the precursor to the Lord of the Rings series. Its main character, Bilbo Baggins, is a human-like creature known as a hobbit. Very small and naturally stealthy, hobbits would seem to make excellent candidates for the task of stealing gold back from a dragon, except for the fact that they love comfort and hate adventures. But when Gandalf the wizard decides Bilbo would be the perfect person for the job, the hobbit finds, even to his own surprise, that a part of him is excited for adventure. Joining a troop of dwarves on their journey to the mountain from which the dragon drove their people out, he faces a dangerous road with an even more dangerous destination. Although his companions quickly become doubtful of Gandalf’s choice, will Bilbo prove to be exactly the “burglar” they need?

Now, I should begin by saying there are a lot of people who absolutely love this book. I begin by saying that because, for me, it has its ups and downs. The first portion is made up almost entirely with one encounter after another along the journey, most of which are entirely separate from the ones that came before. Some of these encounters are with enemies who must be fought or escaped. Others are with characters who become the group’s new friends. For some people, this undoubtedly does hold their interest, perhaps because of the worldbuilding, perhaps because of the action scenes. For me, however, the book doesn’t really get good until they reach the mountain.

I must say, though, the portion that comes after they reach the mountain is so good that it makes the whole rest of it worthwhile, in my opinion. I love the unexpected curveballs that are thrown, subverting expectations and ultimately turning this into far more than a light-hearted adventure story. I also love the role that Bilbo plays in these events, which is consistent with his character throughout and turns him into the true hero of the story in a way I never would have expected. For younger readers, I also believe that certain aspects of this ending send a fantastic message.

Personally, I think the ideal way to read this book would actually be to have it read to you as a child, perhaps a little bit a night or one piece of the adventure at a time. It’s old enough that the parent or guardian or teacher reading might need to stop and explain a few things, and they might want to skip over or have a talk about some things like depictions of characters smoking, but I don’t think this would detract from a child’s experience at all. In fact, I think the explanations would add to it, as it creates opportunities for meaningful conversation. Additionally, the book has a number of songs, which I find to be dull reading but that would really come to life if sung out loud to a tune the reader made up for the child listening.

Of course, the book is very readable for adults as well, and I think it certainly makes sense to read before or after the Lord of the Rings books (I originally read it after, and I can vouch for the fact that everything still makes perfect sense that way). Even reading it as an adult, I would still recommend going piece by piece, however, as that might help with your enjoyment of the almost episodic nature of the earlier encounters.

I would recommend this book for anyone who loves fantasy because, let’s be honest, certain other fantasy lovers are going to bug the heck out of you until you do, and there’s a good chance that you won’t be disappointed. If you are, at least you now have something to discuss with them next time they bring it up. For parents and teachers, I would say that I recommend it for kids who are old enough to understand most of the vocabulary and don’t mind sword fighting and character deaths. This book is for the kids who cheer when the evil wolves get lit on fire. Not so much for the ones who want the good guys to find a way to turn them into friends.

2 thoughts on “Should You Read The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien?

  1. Great summary! I read the Hobbit while I was in my late teens as a parallel read with a boyfriend. I think that is one of the (many) things that turned me toward book clubs. I LOVE discussing books.
    Speaking of both book clubs and The Hobbit, my Classics Book Club is currently choosing their next selections. Before we do this, each member is allowed to veto any classic book that they truly do not want to read. One of our members was firm on not reading anything by Tolkein. No explanation is required of B C members! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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