Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien

 Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit and he enjoys his quiet, respectable life in his quiet home in the Shire. Eating, seeing friends and generally living in peace.

Until Gandalf arrives at his door, followed quickly by 14 dwarfs who drag him into that least wanted of things – an adventure.

He finds himself walking half way across Middle Earth, not eating nearly as often as he would wish and facing far more peril than he’d like, to finally reach the lonely mountain, its treasure – and its dragon.

One of the eternal problems with reviewing is trying to be objective while at the same time recognising that reviewing is always based on our subjective opinions.

In light of that, I have to be fair. So, if you like long winded, extremely slow, ridiculously overwritten stories with far too many characters who have no development and are little more than a name, interspaced with grossly excessive exposition and the occasionally pointless song all told in the voice of a rambly old story teller who seems both forgetful and in terrible need of concise editing – you will like this book. Nay, you will love this book.

However, if you are like me and dislike info-dumping, prefer a tighter story, prefer a story to actually have some pace to it and not to have random pointless encounters to pad the pages and to have every character actually have a relevant role to play in the story then this book will slowly sap your will to live.

Bilbo leaves his home with 14 companions – Gandalf and Thorin and Fili and Kili and Sleepy and Dopey and Grumpy and Bombur (he’s the fat one. We know that because it is mentioned over and over again. Honestly, poor Bombur needs some better friends who won’t constantly mock his weight every single time his name is mentioned). Gandalf, Thorin, Bilbo are relevant, everyone else is an extra. And they didn’t have the good manners to be killed off as excess cast so the protagonist can be all sad about them – they hang around right until the end!

The story also bemuses me. The plan of the dwarfs is to get their ancestral treasure back. Do they know how to get there? Barely. Do they know what’s between them and the treasure? No. Do They have any idea how to overcome any obstacles along the way? No. Do they have any idea how to get the treasure past the dragon? No. Do they have any idea how to get the treasure home? No. They just set off on a wonder and hope that everything will sort itself out.

And it does! Partly through Gandalf Ex Machinae (seriously half of their problems are solved by throwing a wizard at them) and mostly through sheer chance and luck in random encounters. They run into some trolls, are saved by Gandalf and, stroke of luck, they happened to be carrying 3 of the most potent anti-goblin weapons of all time! What luck! Bilbo gets look in the middle of a goblin stronghold under a mountain and happens to find the One Ring! I was waiting for Bombur to look up from his supper and say “by my beard, this fish had swallowed the Portable Nuclear Device of Dragon Slaying! What amazing luck!” Luck gets them out of so many situations. They escape the wargs because, luckily, the eagles see them. They escape the spiders because, luckily, Bilbo has the One Ring. They have no plan to kill the dragon, but luckily their plotting is overheard by a bird who tells an archer a town over that is, luckily, attacked. These characters never actually achieve anything! They manage to bungle through the entire story in a series of natural 20s. Even achievements they seem to have – like Bilbo foiling the spiders or rescuing them from the elves is entirely dependent on his luck at finding the One Ring. And everyone’s dancing around him “my Bilbo you’re an amazing burglar!” he’s freaking invisible! How can he possibly fail? The only reason he looks incompetent is because next to Gloin and Oin and Fili and Doc and Sneezy the ponies they’re riding would look like geniuses!

In between travelling and random luck we have these encounters – Rivendel, Beorn – and I’m not entirely sure what role they serve.

And they sing. Seriously, everyone in Middle Earth must be seriously drunk or something because never have I know anyone break into song at the drop of a hat. It’s worse than a Dickens musical. Spiders got your friends? Song! Bunch of elves rolling barrels? Song! Did Tolkein think he was writing a musical?

The frustration comes is that, when we get to some epic moments – like the battle of the 5 armies, or even Gandalf defeating the Necromancer (which happened off-screen!) then suddenly the pacing speeds up, detail falls away and the whole thing becomes rather quick and anti-climactic. The awesome action scenes are rushed through, yet we spend an interminable amount of time describing dinner and recounting songs?

I do have to admit that Tolkein is the father of the genre. He is the grandmaster of fantasy, he has inspired so much and brought these myths and legends to a generation – but I am bemused to see how, based on the Hobbit (admittedly less so with Lord of the Rings). The dwarfs are a bunch of incredible incompetent clowns that make the three stooges look like a well oiled machine and I don’t think the elves live in the woods because of any love of nature, but simply so they can better hide their expansive drug plantations from the proper authorities.

Inclusionwise – it’s Tolkein. There is none. But take note of the working class accented trolls (subtle there, real subtle).

It is Tolkein. And the world he created here was beautiful. It was rich, it was deep it was covered in maps and languages and more details than I ever imagined. It is and always will be the iconic fantasy world. It fathered a genre of imagination and wonder and from this so much was created – and there are gems buried in the pages, gems of description and revelation of this entire created reality

But I’ll never be a fan, not with the sloppy plot line, the directionless cast, too many extras and terrible terrible over-writing.