Reviewed in the United States on January 14, 2015
Some may wonder if J.R.R. Tolkien's story, The Hobbit will still be worth reading now that the movie adaptation by Peter Jackson is complete. Others may want to know if its worth sticking this book within their reading list when compared to all the other great fantasy writers out there like R.A. Salvatore, William King, J.K. Rowling, or George R.R. Martin. I believe the answer is a humongous YES, but I will break this tale down and give out what I view are the pros and cons to delving into this novel; as well as occasionally comparing and contrasting the novel to the movie.
Characters: While Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf are well rounded characters, I personally feel that the dwarves are mostly lacking in individuality and personality. Balin, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fili, Kili, and Thorin Oakenshield feel like nothing more than foggy sketches to me. While the film has given the dwarves the necessary traits to make them stand out amongst each other, such as Bofur's stiff hat and Oin's ear trumpet, the book leaves out pretty much anything that would make the dwarves stand out from one another. An example:
"`Kili at your service!' said the one. `And Fili!' added the other; and they both swept off their blue hoods and bowed" (10).
And that is pretty much it. We now know that Kili and Fili have blue hoods, and now the reader is left to add their own ideas to try and distinguish the dwarves from each other. While later on the dwarves do do things to separate themselves from each other, the issue never really goes away because by the time the dwarves do start to try and stand out from each other, they are pretty much all one dwarf already. I even tried to get around this issue (I knew before I reread this book that I had an issue with this in prior readings) I tried to use my Kindle to keep notes on who each of them were, but that eventually involved too many back and fourths which was beginning to ruin the story. Not only are the dwarves lacking, but they are fired at the reader so rapidly that their introductions into the tale feel like a tidal wave of characters, drowning the reader in quickly arriving dwarves. Maybe Tolkien did this overload on purpose to cause the reader to feel closer to Bilbo, for he receives the guests pretty much the same way as the reader does--character overload.
Other characters in the story are given much more description and stand out much better than the dwarves do, such as Gollum:
"Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature. I don't know where he came from, nor who or what he was. He was Gollum--as dark as darkness, except for two big round eyes in this thin face" (63).
See, to me that sounds terrifying, and gives the mental eye much more to look at than just blue hoods. A huge flaw when connected to the dwarves, the characters that should be standing out, but luckily, the rest of the characters in the book feel and act alive. One would think though that a book about thirteen dwarves and a hobbit would have the dwarves actually feel solid, and not, background fluff.
Setting: Here we see one of the strong points for Tolkien, and that is Setting. Middle Earth feels alive within these pages, and maybe sometimes too alive. Not only does Tolkien write strong locations, but he really beats the reader over the head with it. I have read so many descriptions of trees that I may actually now be sick of them. In the epic Lord of the Rings this over description of setting is a bad thing, but while I originally hated it in The Hobbit as well, I have found that it is not as bad as I remembered it being here.
"...leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ive and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves" Tolkien writes about the entrance to Mirkwood (121). Descriptions like that really bring the reader into the story. If Tolkien had applied that same in depth writing to the dwarves, this would have been a five star tale instead of the four stars I am going to give it.
Plot: In the interest of trying to keep my review spoiler free, I'm going to be a bit vague. Regardless, the story is excellent. The reader will meet disgusting creatures, horrific monsters, and travel to far away lands. The beginning is a little slow because the narrator has to establish his voice and explain what Hobbits are, but once the story gets going it is a real page burner. The climatic ending is a little lackluster though, for the event that the whole plot builds to is rushed through in a few paragraphs, and an epic scene that probably could have taken up a few chapters is condensed into one, once again, here and gone in a blink of a few pages.
For those of you who have read the book and are going off to see the film, you will find many scenes and characters that do not appear in the book, or if they are mentioned in the book its like a sentence. For example, my favorite character in the movies, Azog, takes up one whole sentence in the book. I personally hated all the extra stuff that appeared in the movies at first, and honestly I refused to watch the films until recently just because I did not agree on The Hobbit being split into three, three hour films because to me it is just milking the series. After watching them a few times though, I have fallen in love with the movies as well, for other reasons. Each format has its strengths and weaknesses, but I honestly I have to go with the movies being slightly better than the book now, which is shocking because I rarely choose movies over books.
Anyway, I give this novel four beheaded goblins out of five. It is a great read, but it is held back by the fact that the dwarves appear to be an after thought in the book, and the epic ending felt like a "blink and it is over" scenario.