If there’s one fantasy novel to rule them all, it’s Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It has such a far-reaching influence that it’s almost impossible to find any aspect of fantasy fiction that doesn’t owe the trilogy some sort of debt. But, despite that, I think Tolkien’s earlier novel, The Hobbit, is unfairly overshadowed by it’s younger brother. I think The Hobbit might be the better fantasy novel.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
Certainly The Lord of the Rings is far grander, a battle between good and evil for the fate of the world and so on. It’s more serious in nature and therefore held in higher esteem. But if The Hobbit is more light-hearted than The Lord of the Rings, I say it is better for it.
We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!
The Hobbit sits much closer to traditional fairy tales in content and tone. It’s an adventure, a treasure hunt, with a dragon to vanquish and humorous events and coincidences along the way. The narrator speaks in a knowing tone, sharing asides and commentary intended to delight and surprise. A favourite is mine is the invention of golf, accredited to a Took’s fortuitous decapitation of a goblin.
I think this is why I prefer Bilbo to Frodo, too. Bilbo’s reticence to leave his home is funny and loveable, whilst Frodo’s seems confusing and naive. To want to stay in the warm because adventures make you later for dinner is cute. Refusing to help save Middle-Earth would have made Bilbo seem mean and selfish.
He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.
But, though this might be “just” an adventure, there’s still peril. Giant spiders. Ancient dragons. And, of course, Gollum.
Poor Gollum wasn’t such a bad guy in the first edition. But when it came time for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien went back and made some changes to bring his character into line with the more mature tone of the sequel. Consequently, Gollum was no longer a fairy tale obstacle who happily bets a magic ring and parts amicably after losing. Now he becomes mean and violent and a very real danger. But the riddles remained and thus the real charm of their encounter.
So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.
And, of course, this is still a Tolkien novel and it’s still set in Middle Earth. So there is plenty of folklore and languages for the people who like that sort of thing (me). There’s plenty of poetry, too, and beautiful lines that could only have been written by J. R. R. Tolkien.
A beautifully written, funny, charming fairy tale adventure, set it Middle Earth. Tell me why it shouldn’t be one of my top fantasy novels.