I didn't think The Hobbit needed defending but here we are
it’s a sacred cow for a reason, BRENT
It was recently brought to my attention that a friend of mine, Made in DNA - an otherwise sane(ish), competent individual - doesn’t like The Hobbit.
“That’s not too weird,” I imagine you saying, “those movies were pretty awful.”
Well, sweet imaginary internet person, A) you are correct, and B) he was talking about the book.
I was floored, flabbergasted. I’ve admired this man’s stories, laughed at his jokes. We’ve spoken on zoom calls where I have looked into his eyes, and yet I never saw the monster, the mad animal lurking within. I hated The Hobbit. What does that even mean? How was this possible?
The only rational explanation for such insanity is that nobody has ever patiently explained the positive things about The Hobbit to him in a numbered list on the internet. To avoid any disagreement or crying about 'opinion', I shall list only OBJECTIVE FACTS about why The Hobbit is wonderful. Listicle, away!
1: It starts with a map
Starting your book with a map is, simply, a good idea. Maps in the first few pages of a book should be the default; a map should only be excluded if the subject matter truly, absolutely CAN'T be enhanced with one. Maths textbook? Probably OK to leave out the map. Novel about a girl coming of age on a horse farm? Give me a map of the farm you jerk.
Fantasy embodies the starting-with-a-map so extraordinarily well that if your fantasy novel doesn’t start with a map then I’m just not going to read it. I’ll find a fantasy epic that respects me, buster. One with a map in it.
Was The Hobbit the first novel to put a map in the front? I can’t think of an earlier one. Based on no research at all - not even a cursory googling - I’m going to say that yes, it absolutely was.
2: The dragon is called Smaug
Tolkien credentials, abridged:
- Architect of modern culture*
- Came up with the CORRECT dragon name
This is timely, considering the latest challenge is at least tangentially about dragons. A distressing fact that any fantasy author must face is that The Best Name for a Dragon already exists, and it’s Smaug. It’s perfect. It is the platonic ideal of a dragon’s name. Go on: try to think of a better name for a dragon. See? You can’t.
The knowledge that you must name the dragons in your own work whilst being aware the name Smaug is already taken is a common cause of distress in the fantasy community, where it is known as LeGuin’s Lament.
3: Relatable Protagonist
My dad read The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story when I was a kid, and I enjoyed it immensely. As a child I loved the sense of adventure, the fantastical setting, the jolly band of dwarfs. All great stuff.
But now I’m 38 and I can’t tell you how much I respect Bilbo just wanting to be left alone in his garden to enjoy his brunch in peace. BIG MOOD BILBO-SAN
4: Led Zeppelin wrote a song about it
I want you to imagine the person you love most in the world. Child, pet, whatever; close your eyes and picture them. Let your mind wander, touching upon all the things that make you treasure them. Loosen your heartstrings and let your love for them flow a little more freely, a little more deeply. It’s okay if a tear comes out; these are good tears, tears of fondness and joy. They come from a good place. Think of how wonderful this individual makes YOU feel, and how much you enjoy the simple fact of them being in the world. OK? We there?
Now realise that, lovely as they are, Led Zeppelin never wrote a song about them**. Not even a single verse! If Led Zeppelin didn’t write a song about the cause of all those wonderful feelings you had just now, but they did write a song about The Hobbit, then it stands to reason that The Hobbit MUST be incredible. That’s just logic innit.
5: Absolute banger of an opening line
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
Look at that. Look at it! As the opening line to a novel it’s got it all.
A good opening line in a story will establish the narrative voice, give us some imagery to set the scene, put forward the stakes or thesis, and provide a bit of mystery as a hook to lure the reader in further. Well sit down class because school is now in session, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien presiding. The first sentence is a simple, ten-word declarative statement, but it pulls us right in. A hobbit? What’s that? Why is it in a hole? That doesn’t sound nice. OH BUT WAIT. Comfort, eh? Intriguing, tell me more.
Toot-toot! All aboard The Hobbit train, destination: end of the book. No sir I’m sorry this an express train, there will be no stops.
So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.
So there you go! I hope now you realise that you did, in fact, like The Hobbit all along, and this was simply a big misunderstanding. Glad we could clear it up. No need to thank me, Made in DNA, let’s just put it behind us. May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks, eh?
[*] Quick word association game: when I say “fantasy” what comes to mind? Doesn’t matter; you thought of something formalised by Tolkien and you now owe royalties to his estate.
“But Tolkien didn’t invent dwarves, or elves,” you mewl weakly. He didn’t, but the elves and dwarfs that came to your mind were his. Stocky bearded miners with a love of gold? TOLKIEN. Elegant ethereal forest dwellers of haunting beauty? You guessed it, TOLKIEN.
“But I didn’t think of those,” you snivel. YES YOU DID don’t lie to me.
[**] Unless what you love most in the world is The Hobbit (in which case you’re reading the right article, welcome) or a levee.
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I love this. Quips between writers is one of the better perks of a writing community! As a Silmarillian fan boy... thank you!
The fact that he didn’t give the rest of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is astounding. An ex talked me into reading The Fellowship and I was hooked. Two Towers and Return of the King are still my favorites but…seriously Brent? It’s like saying George R.R. Martin or Isaac Asimov are so so. Forget about Diana Wynne Jones or Frank Herbert. Now I’m just listing amazing authors whose worlds I have gotten lost in time and time again.
thank you for defending this book I'm rereading it now and agree with every single thing you wrote,
Hmm.. can't edit comments, so in my previous comment please read "Dude" as being gender neutral :-)
Ha, awesome. "Novel about a girl coming of age on a horse farm? Give me a map of the farm you jerk." LOL - yep, I endorse this directive. Dude, write a few novels, I need some good stuff to read while I wait for the next Joe Abercrombie book to come out!