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Hobbit Book Club: Week 1 Recap

Welcome to a recap of week one of our Hobbit Book club. For the entire month of June, we and a handful of readers will read Tolkien’s The Hobbit. At the beginning of each week, I will write a summary of my own reading thoughts, followed by a recap of the discussions on our Facebook Group.

Unlikely Coming of Age Story

Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a children’s book about an unlikely hero that is thrown into an adventure. Yet, unlike many other children’s books, the protagonist of this novel is 50 years old. Many, but of course not all, protagonists in children’s books are usually children or young adults. By using children or young adults as protagonists of a story, it becomes easier for young readers to identify with a protagonist. For Tolkien to use a 50 year old character as the protagonist is an unusual choice. It certainly reverses the expectations of many readers of children’s books.

Yet, despite Bilbo’s age, it is a ‘coming of age’ story. Throughout the novel, as we will see in the upcoming weeks, Bilbo changes and grows. Again and again, Bilbo is torn between his adventurous Tookish side and his comfort-loving Baggins side.

“Indeed he was really relieved after all to think that they had gone without him […] and yet in a way he could not help feeling a trifle dissapointed. The feeling surprised him” (“Roast Mutton”).

As the adventures of Thorin and company go from bad to worse, or so it seems, Bilbo tends to simply react to misadventures. Only when lost inside the Misty Mountains does Bilbo begin to change. Slowly but surely, he starts to become more proactive and less frightened and less reactive:

“Go Back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” (“Riddles in the Dark”)

Bilbo doesn’t pity himself or becomes desperate, lamenting on his missing handkerchief any longer. Instead, Bilbo faces this dire situation and becomes his own savior. Just as Bilbo begins to embrace his Tookish side, he becomes more confident and starts to shape his adventure instead of just stumbling from one (mis-)adventure into the next. This struggle of ‘finding oneself’ and overcoming unexpected issues is why, in my opinion, Bilbo is a character children and adults alike can identify with.

 

Play with Words

Tolkien’s writing style in The Hobbit is of his three major works, the most engaging. By having the narrator constantly engage with the narratee and commenting on Bilbo and his adventures, The Hobbit mimics an oral tale. Each time I read The Hobbit, I cannot help but imagine Tolkien sit in a comfortable chair with a giant book in his hands, re-telling The Hobbit.

The language used in The Hobbit seems appropriate for a children’s book. For example, in the book, Tolkien, most famous for hos linguistic complexity, uses terms such as “The Hill” or “The Water” when referring to places. In other words, the language is simpler than in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion.

Yet, in the famous “Good Morning” conversation between Bilbo and Gandalf, Tolkien manages to squeeze in his linguistic skills in a humorous way. In general, despite a seemingly “simplistic” language, Tolkien succeeds to hide humor and his love for words.

Interestingly, many conflicts in the novel were “saved” by words and not by the sword. Moreover, in those instances where a sword was needed, words still played a significant role. Whether it being Bilbo’s game of riddles with Gollum, Gandalf tricking the three Trolls, or later instances in the novel, the word seems mightier than the sword. Bilbo has no strength, no experience in battle, and is more accustomed how to use a pan rather than a sword, yet, he manages to conquer his enemies.

Community discussions

If you’re interested in reading our entire book club discussions, go and simply join our Facebook Group.

As I’ve tried to explain my thoughts on the novel here and there in the Facebook Group, some members had different takes on Bilbo as the unlikely children’s book hero. One member named Micah, for example, argued that, due to the somewhat different lifespan of Hobbits, Bilbo “ would technically be 27 to 30 human years old at the opening of The Hobbit”. We all, however, agreed that, no matter his age, Bilbo has a rather youthful personality.

When asked about favorite quotes, these were some of the replies:

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”” – James

“In a hole ground there lived a hobbit.” “Good morning?! As if I’m selling buttons at the door ” -Ash

“Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!”  – Micah

“Still it is probable that Bilbo, her only son, although he looked and behaved exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father, got something a bit queer in his make up from the Took side, something that only waited for a chance to come out.” – Chris

“It was a beautiful golden harp, and when Thorin struck it the music began all at once, so sudden and sweet…”  – Fabo

So how is your reading progress going so far? What are your favorite quotes from the first five chapters? Leave a comment down below!

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