"In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit." So begins one of the most beloved and delightful tales in the English language.
Set in the imaginary world of Middle-earth, at once a classic myth and a modern fairy tale, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is one of literature's most enduring and well-loved novels...
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.
Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.
Written for Tolkien's own children, The Hobbit has sold many millions of copies worldwide and established itself as a modern classic. Amazon
How We Got to This Book
The Hobbit has long been one of my favorite books. It, and the Lord of the Rings, qualify as the most influential books in my life. So, when Julie recommended we read it I was thoroughly excited. This was only maybe my sixth or seventh time. Julie thought we should read it because she had heard good things about and had yet to read it. So, we grabbed our books and the journey began.
The Big Question
As we started the book Julie poised the question that would dominate our discussion. "Why read fantasy?" Well, this really floored me. It was a wonderfully challenging question. It was so challenging in its directness. I have so loved reading fantasy for decades that it really challenged me to come up with a worthy answer.
Just prior to reading this lovely book again I listened to two excellent podcasts on Tolkien from an historical perspective. It was absolutely fascinating. The Rest of History is a brilliant and charming history podcast. Each episode is about 45 minutes long and no matter the subject they make it fascinating. With that said, the two leads of this podcast turn out to be Tolkien fans and brilliantly brought their mastery of history to the study of Tolkien and his works. I really enjoyed the context these two podcasts game me as I dove back into The Hobbit.
On 29 October 2022, Julie, Randy, and I met via zoom for about an hour which was me turned into one of the most delightful hours I have had in a long time. Unknown to me, Randy was also a huge fan of Tolkien and poor Julie was surrounded by Middle Earth fanatics. With that said, Julie's "Big Question" really set the tone and the direction for an engaging and delightful discussion.
I began with a rambling defense of fantasy as it having a long tradition in Western culture. That all Western societies had their own myths that could be seen as the starting point of fantasy. Whether it was the Norse sagas or the Greek stories of gods and heroes all of our Western societies have fantasy and myth somewhere in its cultural foundation. Additionally, stealing from Joseph Campbell and the power of myth we talked about the role of the hero's journey and that challenge and growth and fantasy's allure. As part of that we talked about fantasy often not having the same moral constraints that a "real" story might have. For example, when a hero wades into a pack of orcs and valiantly slays them all, we do not charge him with genocide. Lastly, I pondered if fantasy is particularly suited to the adventurous spirit of men though I am not certain of this.
Randy talked about many of the same things and the impact of the Hobbit and Middle Earth on his excitement to read and explore. He talked about the different adaptations of the books into movies and now a tv series. He also brought us down an interesting path of discussion about the difference between reading and listening to the book. All of us had listened to the book this time and we discussed whether it made the experience different and maybe even more personal or natural. As humans we have been wired to listen to stories around the camp fire for thousands and thousands of years. Reading is new to us. Fascinating discussion.
By the end, despite all of the passion and experience that Randy and Sam shared, I don't think Julie was convinced this was a genre she would going to spend much more time with. As a very practical person she raised a really good question about why spend time on something that will not make you better? Will not generate a deeper understanding of the world or teach us a skill. And, if it does not bring her joy while reading it, why read it? Great points and this led us to an interesting discussion around Bilbo. Julie could absolutely relate to Bilbo and his take on the "craziness" of adventuring. Randy and I kind of scoffed at his soft Shire ways. Maybe in the end our stances towards Bilbo best show our stances on fantasy and adventuring through fantasy.