JRR Tolkien's most well-known book after The Lord Of The Rings, which actually came after it. The epic adventure of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, a dozen dwarves and a wizard called Gandalf.
As a book, The Hobbit is usually frequently underrated. Not in the sense that people consider it a bad book, but simply that usually the first and occasionally only thing anyone can find to say about it is "Prequel to The Lord Of The Rings". Stylistically, they are very different beasts, akin to the differences between Over Sea, Under Stone and the rest of the Dark Is Rising Sequence, only about a hundred times more so. The Hobbit is a children's story. It's a fairy tale, with strong moral lessons and a very active narrative voice (which, incidentally, manages to break two of the 'rules' of narration, by using the first and second person pronouns in a third person narrative, without any real damaging effect.) The Lord Of The Rings is a medievalist legend, The Hobbit is more 'fairies at the bottom of the garden'.
In case any of the above sounds derogatory, let me state here and now that I really do like the book. Not only has it probably done hundreds of children great service in encouraging them into reading- and how many of us have read that massive tome, The Lord Of The Rings, when we were at an age when normally anything even a tenth of its length was enough to put us off, just because it was the sequel to the Hobbit, and we wanted to know what happened next.
The Hobbit is, like its successor, founded on that most archetypal of fantasy plotlines, the Quest- in this case the quest for dragon gold. Not the most original of ideas, even in its day, and actually copied by more fantasy clones than The Lord Of The Rings, but magnificently executed here with a lightness of touch, and sense of humour which is absent from all but the odd chapter of The Lord Of The Rings.
It is unclear (to me, at least) whether Tolkien had already factored The Hobbit into his magnum opus dream of the Elder Days at time of writing- whilst at times the storyline has to be massaged into the universe of The Silmarillion for The Lord Of The Rings, there is nothing which really jars, beyond, perhaps, the light and gentle tone of the former in the dark and terrible world of the latter, and even this can be quite successfully accounted for in the world-within-a-world that is the Shire.
I have very dear personal memories of The Hobbit- it was read to me as an infant, was probably one of the first 'age-transcendent' books I read as a child, introduced me to non-mimetic fiction, and I can still recall my mother drifting to sleep herself whilst relating it to my infant self as a bedtime story, and consequently furnishing the darkness of Mirkwood with a "Toddler's Shop". No, I don't know either! -- WJR
We were read it at primary school, by the same teacher who later read us The Neverending Story and gave me a copy of Brian Aldiss' 'Yet More Penguin Science Fiction'. There should be more teachers like that! -- TA
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