“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”
I’ve had a mixed history with ‘The Hobbit’, so I had my doubts as I picked it up for the third time as part of my 2013 Reading Challenge. Having seen the film recently, it was with enthusiasm that I delved into Tolkien’s Middle Earth, from misty mountains and caverns old while encountering friends and foes alike. However, the uncertainty began to creep in ever so slowly at about 20% of the way through, with the memories of the last two times I started and didn’t finish the tome because of lots of different reasons, varying from boredom to the difficulty of the prose. In summer 2008, I first tried to have a go at reading it but soon gave up, then again last summer I barely got past the Shire before I chucked it across the room with frustration. Things were not looking good.
But third time lucky it seems. I finally finished the book, though it took a while and an awful lot of willpower to persevere. At times I wondered whether it was me or the book that was at fault and although I very much enjoyed some bits, they were few and far between, especially in the last few chapters. Basically, the story is this: Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit of Bag-End, embarks on an unexpected adventure with a company of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf to steal what is rightfully theirs back from the dragon Smaug and restore peace to the land. Along the way, there are goblins and wolves and elves and spiders and a ring-worshipping creature called Gollum to add complications to matters.
It’s good. It’s undoubtedly good. But is it as good as people have assured me it is? No. In my mind, it lacks something and, though I know Tolkien fans will crucify me, I wasn’t as impressed as I expected to be. Maybe it was the success of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ that had me wishing for something special, something completely amazing, something by which I’d be blown away. And I wasn’t. I wasn’t quite blown away and was left feeling slightly cold towards the characters and their actions as I turned the final page and placed down the book. If I’m honest, reading it was hard work. The prose is challenging for what’s considered a children’s book, there are too many characters so that everyone gets rather confused and I ended up rather annoyed with the plot by the end. But there is light at the end of the tunnel yet. The inventiveness and cleverness dances on the page, some of the characters are strikingly original (watch out for the scenes with Gollum) and you feel as if you’re actually there in the places described. If only there were more of these parts.
To finish, ‘The Hobbit’ is good. It’s not a flawless masterpiece, it’s just good. But, if I were you, I’d stick with the film.
‘The Hobbit’ is available on Amazon in paperback (£3.85) and on Kindle (£4.99)