March 2, 2017
“Real books disgust the totalitarian mind because they generate uncontrollable mental growth – and it cannot be monitored.”
John Taylor Gatto, A Different Kind Of Teacher, p. 82.
“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we musn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means.”
– Umberto Eco, The Name Of The Rose
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is one of his landmark pieces, which is part of Tolkien’s legendarium. Tolkien’s legendarium revolves around the world of Arda.
Unknown to many, The Legendarium was created by Tolkien to serve as fictional mythology about the remote past of Earth, in which Middle Earth is the main stage.
The Legendarium is composed by phenomenal fiction such as The Lord of the Rings and also The Hobbit, as previously mentioned. But also, the Legendarium features works such as The Silmarillion, The History of the Middle-Earth, The History Of The Hobbit, and more.
Undoubtedly one of the most significant books in the 20th Century, The Hobbit takes us through the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, whose life early on echoes predictability, comfort and simplicity.
However, after an unexpected party, Bilbo’s life changes most auspiciously. After repeatedly stating he was not interested in being privy to an adventure, Bilbo was tricked into going by his guests, the dwarves, appealing to Bilbo’s more adventurous side – his Tookish side. There in the adventure begins.
On Bilbo’s quest to the Lonely Mountain, he and his companions traverse through Rivendel, the Misty Mountains, the dark forest of Mirkwood and even Lake Town, before anchoring at the Desolation of Smaug for the apex of the story.
On the way, Bilbo and his gang run into all sorts of folks: elves, humans, eagles, wargs, orcs, and even intricate characters such as Beorn and Gollum, all of which serve to make this phenomenal fantasy into one of the most intriguing mental escapes any fictional book has ever accomplished.
Throughout the epic, Bilbo’s journey mirrors that of the readers in the time which Tolkien published the story in 1937. Just as Bilbo was reticent of going in the journey, being rather conservative, and being comfortable in his rather run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter everyday life, so were the people of the time of Tolkien a bit reserved about venturing on a journey into the realm of epic fantasy. Mainstream folks weren’t interested in fantasy, and some even felt askance to it. This was the reason why Tolkien used Bilbo as an analogy for the reader to familiarize itself with this Universe.
In fact, as medieval literature specialist and writer Corey Olsen Ph.D. puts it in his in-depth book, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit:
“Bilbo’s initial perspective is so narrow, so domesticated, that being made late for dinner apparently counts as very serious hazard. When Gandalf suggests sending him on an adventure, Bilbo runs into the house in panic.”[Emphasis On Original]
That’s how reticent Bilbo was!
These very circumstances, which mirror those of the readers of the time, are best exemplified by the following words:
“Tolkien was very aware of the artistic challenge he faced in writing a work of fantasy, especially since fantasy literature was far from the literary mainstream in the early twentieth century. He knew that when they encountered his story in The Hobbit, his readers would have to leave their mundane and comfortable world behind and invest their imaginations in a world that contains magic and unexpected marvels. In chapter One, Tolkien gives us a model for this very process within the story itself. We begin in our safe and predictable world, and in the first chapter, we find ourselves in a world of wizard and dwarves and dragons. In this transition, we find ourselves coming alongside a protagonist who is struggling through the exactly the same process, a character who himself internalizes the conflict between the mundane and the marvelous Our first introduction to this magical, grim, and dangerous world of adventure is also his introduction, and his reluctance and difficulty in adjusting to it give us time to ease past our own discomfort and reservations. Bilbo Baggins serves as a perfect touchstone for readers, both exploring and embodying the trickier frontier between the predictable and the unexpected.”
And yet, no matter what Bilbo thought on the surface, deep down inside part of his deepest self was quite intrigued with the prospect of an adventure. This insight is best viewed in the following passage, which takes place right when the dwarves begin an impromptu musical performance at his abode:
“Bilbo “forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill”. He is transported into the land of the dwarves, and their song even brings him to share for a moment their own perspective and experience. As they sing, he “felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves.” For a little while, Bilbo is moved by the music and the poetry of the dwarves, and he steps imaginatively out of his little world and into their story. At this moment, “something Tookish woke up inside him,” and Bilbo finds that there is a part of him that desires adventure after all.”
Once Bilbo’s imagination is unleashed it was like Pandora ’s Box, and there was no putting it back.
The contrast within Bilbo is best noticed when compared with Gandalf, as each represent two sides of the same coin.
As Olsen elucidates:
“Bilbo’s settled, Baggins life is like prose, plain and businesslike, and the magical world of Gandalf and the dwarves is more like poetry, full of wonder and marvels, but also strange and sorcerous like Gandalf’s smokerings. Bilbo may adhere to the Baggins point of view, but his Tookish heritage does give him a tendency toward that other, adventurous life, a tendency that is lurking beneath the surface when Bilbo meets Gandalf.”
This tendency towards what’s intriguing and portentous is what helps Bilbo grow throughout the journey as he finds the core of his Tookish side, and uses it to help himself and his newfound friends in this journey.
Intriguingly, as Bilbo grows accustomed to the wondrous and imaginative changes that magic brings about, so did the readers of the time.
The best part of this The Hobbit is that it’s so in depth and profound that there’s much to be had from it.
Truth be told, as Louis Markos Ph.D. notes in his book, On The Shoulders Of Hobbits – The Road To Virtue With Tolkien And Lewis:
“So greatly did The Hobbit delight adults and children hungry for the lost realm of fairy tales that the cried out for a sequel. In response, Tolkien spent the next decade and a half crafting a far richer and more mature work that would ratchet up its predecessor from a humble fairy tale to a full-scale epic in the tradition of The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Beowulf.”
The Hobbit is truly an upper echelon book. This book resides within a class of books that belongs in an entirely different realm. Some of the greatest books of all literature treat life as a journey, and this book is no different. Moreover, not only that, but the book is so in depth, and offers so many subtle themes, that people for ages will be learning from it.
Touching upon this very subject, Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren speak about these type of books in their own touchstone piece, How To Read A Book – The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading:
“There is a second class of books from which you can learn – both how to read and how to live. Less than one out of every hundred books belongs in this class – probably it is more like one in a thousand, or even one in ten thousand. These are the good books, the ones that were carefully wrought by the authors, the ones that convey to the reader significant insights about subjects of enduring interest to human beings. There are in all probably no more than a few thousand of such books.”
The Hobbit offers many profound lessons of life. Through fantasy fiction Tolkien creates a story which is analogous to what each of our own journeys are individually. And just as life offers us countless lessons from which to learn from, so offers The Hobbit many germane gems of wisdom that are for the taking which are woven throughout the story.
In sum, the best reason to read this book is encapsulated in the following words by Markos:
“All ages at all times need stories, but our needs them so much more…The stories that we need are precisely those that will beckon us to follow their heroes along the Road; that will embody for us the true nature of good and evil, virtue and vice, and then challenge us to engage the struggle between the two…”
And The Hobbit, for those very salient reasons, and more, is just one of those stories.
 Corey Olsen Ph.D., Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, p. 21.
 Ibid., p. 35.
 Ibid., p. 24.
 Ibid., p. 23.
 Louis Markos Ph.D., On The Shoulders Of Hobbits – The Road To Virtue With Tolkien And Lewis, pp. 13-14.
 Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren, How To Read A Book – The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading, pp. 332-333.
Louis Markos Ph.D., On The Shoulders Of Hobbits – The Road To Virtue With Tolkien And Lewis, p. 187.
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