It started simply enough, but has become a worldwide sensation. It was meant to be a story for the author’s son, but millions upon millions of adults have embraced it. It’s popularity led the publishers to ask for a sequel, and what resulted was one of the most important works of fiction ever created. But such was the power in the phrase – “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” – written on a scrap of paper, that could so affect literary history.
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien’s story of Bilbo Baggins, has all the elements that a child (and maybe a grown-up) requires in an adventure story. There are strange races of people (hobbits, elves, dwarves, trolls, and goblins), there is a wizard, and mountains, and secret doors, and maps, a key, and a magic ring.
But above all else, there is a quest. Bilbo Baggins is thrust into the middle of an adventure he desperately wants to avoid. And throughout the pages of the book, we watch as Bilbo is transformed from a sort of bumbling fraidy-cat to the leader of an expedition, as the adventures he and the dwarves encounter serve to refine our hero. So by story’s end, Mr. Baggins is no longer the homebody hobbit who passes out at the mere mention of death, but a bold adventurer who faces his fears and is willing to walk into the dragon’s den.
I think my first exposure to Tolkien was watching the Rankin-Bass cartoon production of The Hobbit back when I was 12…maybe 13 years old. It’s a decent rendition, though I think Glenn Yarborough’s singing is atrocious. My first reading of the book was not long after. I read it every year, usually in August, and my count of readings now approaches 30. But I still love the tale.
A couple of interesting things: my uncle built an earth home years ago, and his mailbox was custom-painted with “Middle Earth” on it. My younger brother proposed to his wife while reading the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” to her. He got to the Bilbo’s question (“What have I got in my pocket?”) and, well, you know…
The greatest value “The Hobbit” has is that its popularity made the publication of “The Lord of the Rings“ a reality. And while the 3-volume sequel required that Tolkien alter certain aspects of Bilbo’s story, it still remains the same classic adventure story today that it was when those first 1,500 books rolled off the presses on September 21, 1937 (the original cover is shown above). And if you can find one of those original copies…
Recommended Reading: The Hobbit – I just finished what I think is my 28th or 29th reading last month, so pick up a copy and go for it!