This is the first in a series of posts that will go through The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings a few chapters at a time. We hope to spread the Tolkien love around the blogosphere, so if you are interested in taking a few chapters, let me know!
Although I read The Chronicles of Narnia first (in third grade), it was finding The Hobbit on Mrs. Rick's 6th grade bookshelf that, literally, changed my life. After that, it was Lord of the Rings, Mentzer Red Box Basic, and a lifetime of fantasy adventure. Although I clearly remember the first time I read The Hobbit, I can't remember the last time I read it, so revisiting the work has been fun and interesting thus far.
Note: Any specific page numbers refer to the Houghton Mifflin hardcover with the Tolkien-illustrated dust jacket.
The following thoughts are somewhat hasty and not very well threaded together, so bear with me.
Chapter One: "An Unexpected Party"
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" is a very simple way to begin a book, but it sets the stage nicely for the reader learning about Bilbo Baggins primarily through where he lives. We get a nice description of Bag-End, as the entire first chapter is set in Bilbo's house. I know people complain about Tolkien as a writer and about the way The Hobbit in particular is written, but I don't quite get it. Setting up what is fundamentally a journey narrative by beginning with the staid hobbit's home works very nicely. I hadn't really picked up on that narrative choice before, but now that I have I think it will be interesting to see how we see Bag End again in the final chapter of this book as well as in Lord of the Rings. It's the quiet place where adventure, literally, knocks on the door.
Another thing I noticed upon this reading was how Tolkien characterizes Thorin. He comes across as kind of a jerk, at least to my modern democratic, hobbit-sympathizing ears. He's described as "enormously important," "haughty," and "too important" to help with the cleaning. Sure, he's an important dwarf-king, but he's not portrayed as very regal or kind -- just snobby and long winded. Gandalf certainly takes him down a peg or two when he draws out the map.
Ah, Gandalf! It's hard not to see him here without bringing all I know about him from LotR, the Appendices, and even The Silmarillion to bear on this chapter. A demi-god recruits a hobbit to be a burglar. I can't help but see Gandalf as manipulating world events even here. While he doesn't know Bilbo is going to find The Ring, he had to have his reasons for picking Bilbo and for thinking the hobbits will be important somehow. He's working to get the dwarves back in power, get rid of a dragon, and put another good-aligned kingdom out on the frontier, near the Necromancer.
Gandalf and his little mark on Bilbo's door also got me thinking about a game idea: the adventurer broker. This is the guy who, for a fee, can hook a party up with tools, henchmen, and whatever else they need for forays into the local megadungeon. He can probably also help you dispose of loot.
Chapter Two: Roast Mutton
And Bilbo oversleeps on the morning of his first big adventure. I love the sort of leisurely, "we'll leave after we've had breakfast and tea" attitude the beginning of the quest has, with Bilbo running up without a hat like he's about to miss the plane to Disney. I also think it's nice how the weather mirrors the terrain, getting worse the further into the Wilderness the party gets.
Then, of course, the trolls. How very un-D&D this whole "encounter" is, with Bilbo getting tossed in the briars and the dwarves getting nabbed one by one. I had completely forgotten about how Bilbo gets caught in the first place -- the troll has a magic purse! That's an interesting magic item to toss into a game! Gandalf saves them all, of course, showing that he's both mysterious and very clever.
That's all I've got for now. I think Risus Monkey is going to take the next two or three chapters. Who wants the ones after that?