Completed 6/2/2014, Reviewed 6/4/2014
How do you review a classic, a book you’ve read multiple times and have loved for nearly 40 years? It’s not easy. I can’t think of much to say that doesn’t sound trite. So I guess I’ll be trite.
I first read “The Hobbit” in 1976. I was fifteen and I don’t think I had read much fantasy. The extent of my fantasy reading was a hard bound Disney collection of short stories based on its famous animated films. I had never read any YA fantasy or SF, like “Narnia”, “Oz”, or “A Wrinkle in Time”. I just jumped from Dr. Seuss and Disney to Michener and Vonnegut. So “The Hobbit” was a revelation. I couldn’t believe a book like that existed. I talked about it with my friends at school for weeks. Then I discovered that there were three more books. Needless to say, LOTR blew my mind.
I read “The Hobbit” several more times in the next 10 years, loving it each time. I think the last time I read it was in the late 80s, so it’s been over 25 years.
A few days ago, I reread the book for my SF Book Club. I thought maybe with this reading I’d have a tougher time with it because I’m older, more jaded and cynical. From the opening sentence, I was enrapt. I felt like I was being read to by Tolkien himself. That is, of course, how it’s written. But I think I felt it more strongly this time than ever before. Reading in the last couple of years has gone from love to obsessive escape. As I read it, I settled into my own little fantasy scenario of Tolkien reading it to me in a chair beside my bed while I was tucked under a big fluffy blanket. I even carried this image with me while reading it on the train to and from work.
What struck me the most this time was the book’s episodic form. Each chapter is almost a complete self-contained short story. It’s like a buffet of amuse bouches. The book never dragged. Each chapter, each paragraph, each aside was purposeful and entertaining.
One odd note about my relationship with the book is that I never remember the battle at the end. My memory jumps right over it to Bilbo’s return to the Shire. So when I got to it this time, it felt like I was reading it for the first time. It was amazing to me how Tolkien was able to make the battle terrible and intense yet keep it for a young audience, and still teach a lesson about the evils of greed and obsession.
I can’t but give this book 5 stars. Even today, at the age of 53, this book delights and moves me. It made me feel like I’ve wasted time not re-reading it more often.