A review of The Hobbit, and how I nearly gave up reading it

Despite writing three blog posts on this book, I haven’t written a full review of it (as far as my reviews of books go, anyway), as those posts were answering questions as part of the group read hosted by Writers’ Bloc. So I have decided to sum up my overall feelings about the book, finally.

Anyone who has seen my Goodreads lately might have noticed that I gave The Hobbit three stars, and this is perhaps a rating that would offend almost everybody, because most people I know either love The Hobbit as a great children’s fantasy, or utterly loathe it as a load of absolute drivel. But, I just…like it. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. I am glad that I read it, and there are parts of the story I won’t forget. I think the upcoming film adaptation of it will be amazing, and possibly far superior to the book, so I am glad I read it before seeing those films, too.

The biggest problem for me, which I spoke of in earlier posts, is that the beginning of the book is just too boring. The writing style isn’t as heavy as it is in Lord Of The Rings, Tolkien’s much more famous masterpiece, but despite this, and more importantly, the story just didn’t really grab me. A bunch of dwarves and Gandalf appear, and force Bilbo along on an adventure to defeat a dragon and reclaim treasure that is rightfully the property of the dwarves. A pilgrimage type fantasy story quickly emerges, and everything bumbles along rather predictably. And whenever the characters find themselves in trouble, Gandalf pulls a few tricks and ta-dah, they’re all safe.

After a hundred pages or so of this, I was nearly ready to put the book down, but luckily it was around this point that something significant happened – Bilbo was separated from the rest of the group. Not only did he have to keep himself alive, and actually begin his ascent to a more heroic status, but this was where he met Gollum and got his grubby little hands on the ring (yes, that ring), and suddenly the story became interesting. Not too much after this, Gandalf has to leave to “take care of business down south”, thus thrusting our unwilling hobbit into a more inspiring role as the main character of the story.

The middle part of the book I enjoyed immensely, I must admit, and I raced through it in a very short amount of time. The scenes with the giant spiders, in the Elven prisons, and even inside the mountain with Smaug the dragon were all brilliant. But then the final part of the story came along, and I quickly realised that the big event I was expecting to be the end of the book had occurred far too early, and that something else was going to be the climax. That’s okay, I like surprises. But then just as the action really heats up, Bilbo is knocked out, and the story is cut short. And yes, the rest of what happened is related to him later by Gandalf, but somehow it just feels like we as readers have been short-changed at that point. More than that, the hero himself has little to do with the final conflict, which doesn’t sit right with me. While there are elements to this ending I did like, it did feel a little rushed, a little forced, and surprisingly sloppy.

I guess I am being quite harsh towards The Hobbit. I can see why it is much loved, and I can see how influential it has been. I also am aware that although it’s nowhere near as good as LOTR, Tolkien did spend 12 years writing that book, so it’s not really fair to compare the two. I don’t think I’ll be re-reading The Hobbit, but I am glad to have ticked it off my list, and overall I did enjoy it and do consider it necessary reading for any fans of the fantasy genre, or anybody with writing ambitions – even if you’d never write a book like this, I think this is one of those stories you have to read once. It is a kind of duty, really.

So there we have it. The Hobbit, a good novel, but as far as I’m concerned, not a great one.

What are your thoughts on this book? Did you like it or hate it, and why?

Do you think the upcoming film of this will be superior to the book?

20 thoughts on “A review of The Hobbit, and how I nearly gave up reading it

  1. I recently read The Hobbit too, and like you I gave it three stars. My fiance – a big Tolkien fan – was disappointed because of that, but I really couldn’t say that I loved it or that it was awesome. It was okay, there were some nice things about it, but it’s still very wordy and descriptive and takes too long to get to the exciting parts. Ultimately my two favourite characters died and their death wasn’t even given its due. =[

    However, I still want to watch the movie. In this case alone will I say that the movie is much better than the book!

    • Ahh, glad to know it wasn’t just me who felt this way about this book. I did think the deaths were brushed over a bit at the end, for sure.
      Yep, LOTR I found better as films than as the book, and I suspect The Hobbit will be much the same. I think they’ll be adding more detail to the movies, considering there’s two of them – I’m thinking they’ll be giving more to the Necromancer storyline which isn’t really covered in much detail in the book.

    • Oh okay? Actually I did like Hobbiton, it was very cute. I think it was Bilbo who irked me at the start. I know he’s supposed to be a reluctant hero, but geeze he’s whiny. I actually half wonder if I would have enjoyed the book more if I had read it when I was younger maybe. I must be getting old and cynical or something… 😛

  2. I was given The Hobbit around age 7, but didn’t read it until I was about 15. I sat down and punched through the whole thing in a day. It was rough at the time. I’m curious to read it again now, to see how I feel about it.

    • Ah, that would be interesting to re-read after a solid decade or so. If you do re-read it, let me know, as I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. 🙂
      If I re-read it, it won’t be for a long time I don’t think.

    • It is worth pushing through – after a few chapters you get used to the writing and the story becomes more interesting. But I think getting past the start is the hardest bit, well for a lot of people anyway. Some people are hooked from the very beginning.

  3. I have never actually read the Hobbit myself–it was read to us when I was nine in school, and I loved it! I think the novel really comes alive through reading aloud, with the suspenseful scenes and the many characters, and that as a whole, it’s pitched at a much younger age level. I’m not surprised you didn’t love it as much, as an older reader, since that’s how I’ve felt about a lot of young adult books (which people have raved about) that I read slightly later than intended. As adult readers, I think we have a much more demanding sense of narrative.

    • This is very true – I think being an adult makes it harder to enjoy some children’s books. I have really enjoyed re-reading some, such as Roald Dahl for example, but then I guess for me that has personal nostalgic value too.
      I’d be curious to hear an audiobook of The Hobbit, to see if hearing it aloud would make a difference even at my age now. 🙂

  4. Hi, well, like we said in our Q&A I’m glad I reread it, BUT, (there had to be a but) It did feel much more like a children’s book than the first time I read it. I think for me that’s linked to two things. Firstly, that I’ve only recently reread LoTR and so the comparisons were inevitable and secondly, the way the dilemas are resolved felt very much for a children’s audience. They get into a scrape, they stand and worry about it and then it’s all resolved in a flash – which if you think this is for a younger audience makes perfect sense.
    I did enjoy it though and probably more so because it was a group read and I find it motivates me to finish what I’ve started.
    Lynn 😀

    • Yeah, that’s very true – there’s no need for clever resolutions to problems if the intended audience isn’t likely to pick apart plot holes and narrative devices like we do. 😛 But yes, I am glad we read it as part of a group read, as it forced me to get on with it and knock it out, and I’m glad I did in the end because it was a good book. 🙂
      I wonder what book will be next for the Writers’ Bloc people? Mind, I’m going overseas for a few weeks very soon, so I might end up missing the next one…

      • It makes me endlessly guilty that I haven’t put my post up yet, but I have to agree with your review and Lynn’s comment. And the three stars seem just about right, Matt. I gave it four stars the first time around, and now, I’m having second thoughts. Sure I love the book, and re-reading it was a very interesting experience (especially with you guys!) but I think this is going to be the last time I pick it up. Yes, I still think it’s a book every fantasy-devourer needs to pick up at least once, but my thoughts about the book were very different this time from what I remember. For one, I didn’t recall it being so..simple. And I didn’t think that would be an issue, but it was. and that makes me feel absolutely rotten. 😛

        • Hahahaha. Yeah, it is sad when you have fond memories of a book or film or tv show, and when you rediscover it, it doesn’t have the same effect on you it once did. I think with this one, I think the film will help bring the story to life in a much more exciting way. I’m hoping so, anyway!
          Glad to know that it’s not just me who feels this way about this book! 🙂

    • Yeah, it seems to be a common issue with it. If you can get past the first part it gets better. But I think these days especially, writers cannot get away with boring starts to books, because people will just move on to another book now. 😛

  5. I gave the book a 4-star rating, but I still debate between that and 3 stars. I haven’t had a chance to fully read and comment on anyone’s week 2 and 3 posts, but I agree with most of your review. My main gripe with The Hobbit is how it ended — I’m feeling a little bitter of the whole Smaug thing. I couldn’t possibly believe 13 dwarves and a hobbit could defeat a mighty dragon alone, and I looked forward to see how it’d be done. The turn of events disappointed me, and — as you said — Bilbo is knocked out during the battle.

    • Yes, that’s how I feel about the Smaug thing, I expected this epic showdown between them and the dragon, and it just never happened. And then the rather epic battle, while an interesting concept, wasn’t executed in a great amount of detail. I think the middle part of the book is the best by miles, it started off a touch boring, and it ended disappointingly. I must admit I am glad to find a lot of us are agreeing on this point, actually! 😛 I thought I was being a cynical grump about it haha 😛

  6. It’s been three decades since I’ve read The Hobbit, so don’t remember a great deal about it, now, but from your comments, I wonder whether this was Tolkien’s first novel. I made some similar mistakes when I wrote my first fantasy novel, although in retrospect, maybe it was the Tolkien influence slipping in since I wrote that story about 15 years ago and probably remembered more about it then. After my story was raked through the coals by my writers group for some very similar problems to what you disliked about The Hobbit, I wonder whether the LotR series was written after he had practiced his craft a bit more. Hmmm.

    • I think he definitely took a lot more care writing LOTR, I mean he spent 12 years writing that one, so by the end of it he would have been a much better writer than at the start, and certainly in comparison with his writing skills when he wrote The Hobbit. I know he did write before The Hobbit but I don’t know if any of his books were published before…I should look into it, really.

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