The Hobbit. J. R. R. Tolkien. 1937

It was supposed to be a tale for children

“Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon that guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home, rich! This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.”

In 1936 Rayner Unwin, the ten years old son of the publisher Sir Stanley Unwin writes this review of The Hobbit persuading his father to publish it. At the beginning, in fact, the book was intended by J.R.R. Tolkien as a tale for children. So Sir Unwin from the then-English-today-Australian Publishing House Allen & Unwin believes none to be a best judge but a child. So, after his son review, the book is published and its success goes beyond any expectations.

The Middle Earth

J.R.R. Tolkien narrative genius reveals immediately able to engage not only every child between 5 and 9 as anticipated by the young Rayner, but also adults from any generation. The secret of the favorable and enthusiastic reception met by the book lies in the writer-philologist incredible style that reflects the competence and passion for history, languages and literature that he puts at the service of a very ambitious project: building a new credible imaginary world, the Middle Earth.

A world where an original characterization of its inhabitants – men, wizards, dwarves, elves, hobbits and fantastic creatures – reflects the multifaceted traits of personality: the valiant yet corruptible men, the brave yet wrathful dwarves, the wise yet distant elves, the good-hearted yet couch-potato hobbits. Within this world people have their own roles and they are supposed to live sticking to them, at least till the wizard Gandalf manages to persuade the hobbit Bilbo Baggings to embark on an audacious journey.

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

“I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

Simple life and spirt of adventure: influences

What one may soon find engaging about this story is how the hobbit simple nature of Bilbo as exposed to the daring nature of Gandalf turns into spirit of adventure. Their friendship makes clear from the beginning that the Middle Earth is a place where it is possible to pursue an ideal image of self. A land where a hobbit, whose nature expresses at best in the love and ambitions for safe and small things, finds himself capable of going on a big adventure, defying dragons, orcs, and wild creatures. An imaginary universe where in the same way a knowing and dauntless wizard may learn the value of life little pleasures in bringing out the best in people.

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

As a matter of fact is indeed the capacity of giving importance to simple things to make Bilbo able to face any difficulties with the necessary strength, being always able to notice and appreciate the good side of things and situations.

Bilbo was bound to find the ring

If we let the Tolkenian universe carry us away, it is soon to be clear that the bright traits of Bilbo’s personality are the reasons why he is chosen to find and bear for a while the ring of power. In fact, it is a terrible device, able to corrupt the heart of the most incorruptible men, yet it will have hard time with the simple and candid nature of hobbits.

“he crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment”

“The Hobbit” lays the foundation for the great adventures told by J.R.R. Tolkien in “The Lord of the Rings” and for its big themes such as the endless struggle between good an evil, the value of freedom, travel as a way of growing, friendship and the heroic courage to face the unknown. The courage of heroes indeed but revised by the heart and eyes of the young hobbit Bilbo Baggins who though being used to simple and safe pleasures in life, decides to go on adventure defying the fear of the inner change it always leads to.

Related films

Among the most notable and recent, Peter Jackson’s Trilogy, which includes: An Unexpected Journey, 2012; The Desolation of Smaug, 2013; The Battle of the Five Armies, 2014;

Here is the “I’m going on adventure” scene from the first film, An Unexpected Journey: when Bilbo, after having declined Gandalf’s offer to join the adventure, realizes he does want to go so he starts running to catch up with Gandalf and the dwarfs.

What do you think?

Tolkien is more than an author. It was amazing and moving to discover that when his wife died he had the name “Luthien” engraved on her gravestone and when he did, he had left instructions to write “Beren” on his. They are the names of the man and elf princess in love whose stories he had told in the Silmarillion.

This made me think how deeply Tolkien was connected to the world he had created and the way he took it so seriously describing it in every details and being willing at last to unite to it in perpetuity; this is probably the reason why many readers have been able to connect to it and love it as well.

Beyond one’s literary preferences his work is indeed something huge, like a mental attitude that at one stage of life everyone enjoys reading is likely to run into. Have you? And what are your thoughts about it?