The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (Allen & Unwin, 1937)
As I was re-reading The Hobbit recently, I was struck by how many of the themes and events are paralleled in The Lord of the Rings. That may well be because I had just read On Fairy Stories, also by JRR Tolkien, and the introduction to that volume lingered on the development that took place in his writing in between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
I love the early pages of The Hobbit, where Bilbo is surprised into holding a tea party for multiple dwarves and his old friend Gandalf. The cosiness of Bag End is established, as is a hobbit’s love of home, good food and peace and quiet.
The scenes act as a prelude for Bilbo’s unexpected decision to join the dwarves on a quest to snatch Smaug the Dragon’s wealth. For much the same reason, I always enjoy lingering over the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring. There Bilbo hosts an even bigger event, his birthday party, before again leaving the Shire, this time for Rivendell. Frodo will also leave the Shire, bearing away the ring that has begun to take a hold of his uncle’s soul.
Rivendell also appears in both novels, giving Bilbo and the dwarves ‘A Short Rest’ there, and providing his safe harbour in The Fellowship of the Ring after he leaves the Shire behind for a second time decades later. Rivendell will also act once again as a staging post for onward travel, this time for Frodo, Merry, Sam and Pippin when they pause for Frodo to seek medical assistance. It is at Rivendell that the fellowship is formed and the true nature of their quest becomes clear.
Another parallel between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring lies in a brief respite from travelling in the form of a stop with someone unusual they encounter on their journey who lives away from civilisation. In Bilbo’s case, this involves staying for a few days with Beorn, a man-bear.
Frodo and his friends later meet Tom Bombadil and have a few nights’ rest with him and Goldberry before continuing their quest. A more direct revisiting of past events happens when Frodo’s group passes through the same clearing where Bilbo and the dwarves were taken prisoner by the trolls. The trolls are still there, stone-like, and Frodo realises where they must be.
The connection between hobbits and eagles is also explored in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In The Hobbit, eagles swoop in to rescue Bilbo and the dwarves when they are trapped in the branches of trees with goblins rampaging below. After the destruction of the ring in the fires of Mount Doom triggers a volcanic eruption, eagles also lift Sam and Frodo to safety.
It is possible to embrace the parallels between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings without detracting from the uniqueness of each of the stories. One is a children’s story about a quest for gold, though I still love reading now in my fifties and the book enjoys legions of lifelong fans. The other is a three-volume saga for adults, full of dark shadows and the despair of evil times. I feel that seeing the links between the two enriches our reading experience of both.
Thank you for reading my review of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I'll be back on Friday. In the meantime, the comments section is open so please do share your thoughts.
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my article about sigils in fantasy fiction (Truth Stranger Than Fiction) here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Trebizon books by Anne Digby here.