Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: The Hobbit

This entry is part 32 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Hello, and welcome to this Mark Ayre production of “The Hobbit (review)”

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.

“Mark. Why are you writing the Hobbit review BEFORE your Buffy Scripts review? We know you read Buffy first cause that review came out days ago.”

Well first off, how do you know what order I’m writing things in? Who’s to say I didn’t write this review after my Buffy review?

Huh? Huh?!

That’s what I thought.

Anyway, of course, you’re right, I’m writing this review now, before my Buffy review, and the reason is a silly one.

See, I write all my reviews in writing program, Scrivener, unless I write two at once. In which case I write the latter review on Evernote.

Now, here’s where things get silly. I don’t have Scrivener on my work PC. It’s on the laptop I bring to work with me.

Unfortunately, I took said laptop home to charge it then forgot to do so, hence here I sit, on a Tuesday, laptopless.

What any normal person would do at this point would be fire up Evernote and start writing the Buffy review on that.

But, as the Crown Prosecution Service are always so keen to point out at my trials, I am not normal.

I have to do things in a certain way, and I’ve got it into my head I must do the next book read’s review on Scrivener. I can only use Evernote for overflow.

So, although I haven’t yet started Buffy, and could start it here, I’m not going to. It would make me feel ill because it would break with tradition.

Yeah, weird.

So, I’ll write The Hobbit Review here to ease my madness and you’ll be none the wiser cause scheduling.

Well, except I told you.


The Hobbit and Me

Yes, this is usually the bit where I talk about the author, but for a couple of reasons, I’m not going to do that here.

First off, is there anyone on this Earth who associates J.R.R. Tolkien with anything other than Middle Earth?


Not even his family.

Second on, because of the box set of four books I have, my next review will be of the Lord of the Rings “trilogy”. So if I talk about Tolkien here what do I talk about there?



No, that’s a stupid idea.

Instead, I’ll talk here about my past experiences with The Hobbit. Then next review I’ll do the same with LotR.

Sound good?

Good, well let’s talk about how long I’ve had The Hobbit.

It’s one of the elders of the shelf. Part of a nice box with the LotR “trilogy”. I can’t remember where I got it or who gave it me. Feels like it was my mother but then her mother has the same set in her house and why would they both own it?

It doesn’t matter, I don’t suppose. I’ve had it a long time.

Of this set, The Hobbit was the only book I read, and that not since I was in my early teens or younger.

I finished it, I’m almost certain, although the whole thing is a blurry memory.

Truth is, when I first read it, I didn’t enjoy it, and although I kept the set, I never bothered returning to read it again.

My next experience of The Hobbit came when the film franchise came out.

I watched the second of these at the cinema and the first at home.

I’ve not seen the third.

Still, as with many people, I find the story and mythology of the Tolkien universe fascinating. That alone was enough to give me a little interest in returning to the story.

Besides, I was a kid when I last read it. I would get it now.


The Hobbit

The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo Baggins who is (duh) a Hobbit.

He journeys with 13 dwarves to reclaim their old mountain home from a nasty dragon called Smaug.

They go for a long walk to said mountain, getting into many scrapes along the way. Taking on Trolls, spiders, nasty elves, goblins, wolves and Andy Serkis.

Upon arriving at the mountain there is a conflict with the dragon (kind of) and a war (sorta).

Then, this over, Bilbo returns home/ dies a horrible death (no spoilers here!)

So I went on this journey with Bilbo, and these are the thoughts I had.

Oh, it’s for kids?

I know I read this as a kid but one thing I had not realised (or remembered) was that it was a book for kids.

Also, it’s for kids that aren’t into reading challenging books.

The prose is very simple and the dialogue is like what you might find in a David Walliams’ book.

There are lots of exclamation marks. To the point that it gets silly. I mean, there’s seven on the page below alone.

The strange thing about this book is it’s hard to work out who it is for.

Yes, children, I get it. But which children?

The writing style makes it feel like a book for kids who aren’t into reading. But the story is expansive, and the book long. There are loads of passages that go on and on but nothing happens but walking or eating or playing table tennis with elves.

This kind of writing feels like it belongs in books which are shorter, pacier. Like Cirque Du Freak or one of the Cherub Books. While the length and the scope of the story belong to something more adult. Like, uh, Lord of the Rings.

That’s, I guess, why this book was never successful.

If by never successful I mean being only being in print non-stop for  81 years.

Pah, pathetic!

A trilogy is about right

Okay now to confuse things even further.

This book is too long.

Yet, also, it’s too short.

I know, I know, bare with me.

Peter Jackson surprised me when he announced The Hobbit films would be a trillogy.

I rolled my eyes.

Classic money grabbing.

Like that time they could make Harry Potter 5 into one film but Harry Potter 7 had to be two. Despite being much shorter.

Yeah, there are major narrative reasons for that, I’m sure.

I thought it was the same with The Hobbit.

Then I read it again.

Yes, Jackson adds plots and characters, but even ignoring that, there’s plenty of scope here.

In fact, this links into one of my big problems with The Hobbit.

There are many pages taken up walking or eating or sleeping, yet the action scenes are so undercooked.

As you’d expect, The Hobbit’s journey to the dragon is not simple. The many nasties of above interrupt it with alarming frequency, which is what you want as a reader.

You want challenges. You want the characters to face hardships.

The problem is… the hardships never seem that hard.   

Trolls capture the dwarves but Gandalf fast confuses them until they turn into stone. Goblins capture the gang but Gandalf fast explodes them with his staff and they escape. Wolves scare the questers into trees where they are fast rescued by Eagles.

These are only three obstacles thrown at Bilbo and the crew but they are all so easy to escape from. All action seems rushed. These difficult moments pass before any drama or tension has a chance to build up.

This continues throughout the book to the so-called “Battle of the Five Armies” at the end.

I was interested to see how this would work before I read the book and then even more interested to find out it doesn’t.

It begins 2 chapters from the end with a standoff and becomes “the battle of the five armies” when the Goblins come to war.

Only there is no war. At least not one the reader gets to see. Bilbo is immediately knocked out and doesn’t reawaken until it’s all over.

This was frustrating for me, and I wasn’t sure what the point in having the battle at all was if we weren’t going to get to see it.

Plot armour

I went to the cinema recently to see Star Wars VIII. Good film, but on the way out my brother talked about how much ‘plot armour’ the main characters had. This the convenient get out of jail free cards that get characters out of sticky situations in the nick of time. Often, these tricks are cheap.

To me, The Hobbit also had a lot of plot armour, and he was called Gandalf.

There is a theme in stories with all powerful mentors and that is said mentor dying. See Ben Kenobi in Star Wars, the turtle in Kung Fu Panda, and David Attenborough in Blue Planet.

The reason this happens is to allow the hero to grow, and it’s obvious to see why.

As I have said, it is Gandalf who saves the dwarves and Bilbo from both the Trolls and the Goblins. Not breaking a sweat in either situation.

This is annoying because it’s boring. Gandalf doesn’t seem beatable and also it makes Bilbo a passenger in his own book. Not the sort of thing I want to see as a reader. I want my main character to suffer and he never does.

At least Tolkien wised up and offed Gandalf part way through The Fellowship of the Ring.

Well, at least for a while.   

Who is even the hero?

Continuing this theme of Bilbo being a passenger and plot armour, we have the question of the hero.

Gandalf doesn’t die in this story but he does bugger off part way through to deal with ‘other matters’. Presumably ironing his cloak and going on his next Tinder date.

After this Bilbo does step up a little. He saves the dwarves from some nasty spiders and some nasty elves. Not that either is too troublesome for him.

But, what about the crux of the story? What about the climax?

How would you describe The Hobbit to someone in a few words?

You would say it’s the story of “a hobbit who joins some dwarves on a journey to reclaim some treasure from a dragon.”

And what you think you heard this?

You would assume The Hobbit, as our titular character, plays a major role in defeating said dragon.

And he sort of does. Kind of.

He notices a weak spot on the dragon and talks about it to his dwarf friends.

A bird hears and flies off to nearby Laketown, where he relays this gossip to Bard, a human archer.

Bard then does the dirty work while the dwarves and Hobbit are busy divvying up the cash in the dragon’s old home. They don’t even realise the dragon is dead until some time after the fact.

Back in Year Eight (or as it’s known in America, something else) teach gave us a passage to read from the Hobbit.

It turned out to be the passage with the gossiping bird and the archer. This makes sense, given it’s part of the climax of the book. But I remember thinking at the time… where exactly is this Hobbit then?

It strikes me as odd now as it did then.

Imagine if Harry went into hiding following a fight with Voldemort. Came out three days later only to discover a muggle we’d never met before had shot him dead.

Very satisfying.

Luckily, The Hobbit leaves itself enough time for redemption.

Lining up a huge battle for The Hobbit to involve himself in.

Oh wait, he falls asleep for that, doesn’t he?

Sum Up

The Hobbit is the seeds of a great story riddled with various issues as detailed above.

That’ll be why it’s one of the most enduringly popular books of all time, then?

I gave it a three out of five on Goodreads.

Feel free to abuse me about that.

Next Time

Next up we’ll be reading one book in three volumes (sigh, can’t we just call it a trilogy?)

It’s The Lord of the Rings!

Seems like the natural successor to this, right?

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Buffy the Vampire Slayer ScriptsMan vs Bookshelf: The Lord of the Rings >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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