As you all probably don’t know, I am participating in SJ’s summer read-along of all books Tolkien. Well, all of the ring-related books (unless there’s more that I don’t know about). The read-along kicked off on the 23rd with the reading of the first five chapters of The Hobbit. The read-along will continue on through the end of August with the reading of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, following our reading of The Hobbit. For more info on SJ’s readalong, check out her announcement over at Snobbery.

the hobbit cartoonA little background on my prior knowledge of The Hobbit: my dad kept copies of Tolkien around the house growing up, but I don’t remember him ever really encouraging me to read them; my 7th grade teacher showed us the cartoon version of The Hobbit in class (he was a big fan of movies adapted from books–we never actually read any of the books); once the LOTR films were released, my dad got back into Tolkien, and I joined in and read the LOTR series; after I graduated college and moved back home, I finally read The Hobbit for the first time.

So, that’s my background with Tolkien, but I don’t think I was as good a reader in those days as I am now (surprising, actually, since I read them while and after majoring in English at SDSU). Thus, I’m expecting to get quite a bit more out of these books than I did the first time around. Plus, now I have buddies to discuss the books with, which always adds to one’s comprehension and analysis. I’m pretty excited to really soak up Middle-Earth!

SJ has posted her first discussion post over at Snobbery, so I’m going to reflect here in a sort of a reply to her post, with additional highlights for me and questions I have for SJ and any other readers who may be well-versed in Tolkien. I’m gonna split up my reflection by chapters. Here we go!

the hobbit

Chapter I: An Unexpected Party

Here we meet Bilbo, Gandalf, and the many dwarves. In reading the first chapter, I was struck by

  • the tone of The Hobbit vs the tone of the LOTR series. It feels like a wonderful children’s book. Was this Tolkien’s purpose? Was he setting out to write a children’s book with The Hobbit?
  • my love of the Took ancestry. Bilbo is related to the Tooks, who are known for their adventuring ways (which is very unconventional for hobbits). Bilbo struggles with a deep-rooted desire for adventure, which stems from his Took blood. It’s a completely different genre, but this reminded me of Mr. Prosser, the man heading the demolition of Arthur Dent’s house in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Prosser, a very mild-mannered simp of a man, had a deep-rooted desire for battle, due to his distant relation to Genghis Khan. Love these kinds of internal conflicts!
  • the humor of Bilbo’s extreme flusteredness (to use SJ’s coined term) at the unexpected arrival of a pack of strange dwarves. Bilbo is a creature of habit, enjoys MANY meals throughout the day, and these uninvited guests completely screwed up his routine. I’ve been there, Bilbo!

Chapter II: Roast Mutton

And, they’re off on their journey! The big highlight of this chapter, for me, were the three trolls. I loved the scene with the three trolls, and so far they are my favorite characters. Lucky for Bilbo, they’re not too hungry when they catch him trying to burgle the troll William’s pocket. Bilbo gets all flustered (again) when they question him, and, surprisingly, William apparently has a sensitive heart and wants to let Bilbo go. I love the trolls’ exchange over Bilbo:

‘Poor little blighter,’ said William. He had already had as much supper as he could hold; also he had lots of beer. ‘Poor little blighter! Let him go!’

‘Not till he says what he means by lots and none at all,’ said Bert. ‘I don’t want to have me throat cut in my sleep! Hold his toes in the fire, till he talks!’

‘I won’t have it,’ said William. ‘I caught him anyway.’

‘You’re a fat fool, William,’ said Bert, ‘as I’ve said afore this evening.’

‘And you’re a lout!’

‘And I won’t take that from you, Bill Huggins,’ says Bert, and puts his fist in William’s eye.

Then there was a gorgeous row.

the hobbit trolls pewter

I would totally buy this! Love these guys!

Gandalf, of course, rescues Bilbo and the dwarves, and when splitting up the trolls’ booty, Bilbo, Gandalf, and Thorin get some super-cool elven blades. They glow when goblins are near–how cool is that?!

Chapter III: A Short Rest

In this chapter, our adventurers take a break with Elrond and the elven gang at Rivendell. I had forgotten that Elrond was in this book, albeit for a short time. I wonder for how long Peter Jackson will extend his role in the upcoming film adaptation? Jackson loves those elves!

My favorite part about this chapter was the revelation of the moon-letters on the adventurers’ map, and the discussion of runes overall. I am a nerd who has a handy guide to runes in my library, so, at this chapter, I pulled it out and set about translating the runes on the map. I dig that stuff!

Chapter IV: Over Hill and Under Hill

Here the gang has a run-in with some goblins. It was fun to get more backstory on the goblins vs. dwarves conflict, but, for some reason, this chapter paled in comparison to the other four. But, that’s just me. : )

Chapter V: Riddles in the Dark

You are absolutely right, SJ. This is a very creepy chapter–it definitely came off as more creepy than the first time I read it. I wonder why. Mood always affects my reading, and I was reading this chapter when I was alone in the house, in the dark. Maybe that’s why? Or maybe it’s my extreme aversion to cannibalism (duh, Mandy, no one likes cannibalism. But, that’s in my top 3 scary elements! Some people hate clowns, I hate cannibals!). Gollum wants to eat Bilbo. That’s creepy. Plus, his little lake is super creepy, with him going around in his little boat. And his descriptions of hunting down goblins for dinner was creepy too. I dug this chapter–I love to be creeped out!

Now for SJ’s discussion topics:

1. Tolkien’s songs I read all of the songs, not skipping any. I don’t hear them or sing along with them, but I definitely read them. These serve as backstory and act in a way similar to the chorus in Greek tragedies. Therefore, it’s essential that the reader doesn’t skip them, as they are serving the plot.

2. Has my opinion changed about these chapters since my first reading of The Hobbit? Not necessarily my opinion–I knew what a masterpiece The Hobbit was when I read it the first time–but, I am a much more conscious and curious reader on this go-round. I have more questions than before, and I am noticing a lot more details than I did at 22.

3. Did Bilbo cheat in the riddling challenge? Nahhh. If this were a proper riddling contest, like, say, with a train named Blaine, it would definitely be cheating. But, Blaine wouldn’t put up with crap like that, so it would never be considered cheating. It would never get to that level because he would simply say “that is not a riddle, Roland, son of blah blah blah (oh crap, I’ve already forgotten his father’s name! It’s just like Derry…you step away from it, and details start to disappear!)” and that would be the end of it. Move on! But, that was a proper, structured riddling contest. Bilbo and Gollum really don’t have any official rules going on, and Gollum, unlike Blaine, actually fell for the “What’s in my pocket?” question. It wasn’t even intentional by Bilbo. I say that the moment Gollum went for it, it became an official entry. Besides, Gollum’s a big cheater too–he was going to eat Bilbo either way. So, no, it wasn’t cheating!

Alright, so this week is chapters 6-12 of The Hobbit, which I will get started on (and probably finish) tonight!

Anyone else reading The Hobbit?