Warning: contains spoilers.
The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, was first published in 1937 by JRR Tolkien and serves as the prequel to The Lord of the Rings (although at the time of publication Tolkien had no idea that he was going to go on to write the best-selling trilogy).
The first film in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy came out in the UK last week which is what spurred me to re-read the book and has in turn inspired this post.
For anyone who doesn’t know, The Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who is mistaken by a company of dwarves for a burglar and is swept up in their journey across Middle Earth to reclaim their home and treasure from the dragon Smaug. Bilbo is a stay-at-home, comfort-loving non-adventure-seeking kind of a hobbit who would sooner sell all of his possessions to the Sackville-Bagginses than go on an adventure but after an impromptu visit from Gandalf the wizard he finds himself with very little choice other than to join the dwarves and pray that one day he’ll see his comfortable armchair again.
On the road the company encounter Trolls, Elves, Goblins, Wargs and all other sorts of fantastical creatures as they stumble from one mishap to another before eventually reaching their goal – the Lonely Mountain, once home to the legendary Thrain, King under the Mountain.
The Hobbit is a much lighter (and shorter) offering than Tolkien’s subsequent work making it a much easier read. Despite being full of adventures and near-misses the story’s chief element is the development of Bilbo’s character. The hobbit undergoes a complete transformation in the course of the journey seeing him change from a cowardly comfort-seeker into what can only be described as a hero. He discovers a whole new side to himself and slowly gains the respect of the dwarves which make up the rest of the party.
This character development is something I feel the film(s) has missed out on to acertain degree. By the point at which the film ended, Bilbo had already made his transformation and was behaving as you would expect any hero to act. He didn’t need Gandalf’s help to tackle the trolls and there was a whole new fight scene in which he quite literally saved the day. At the same point in the book (and somewhat beyond it), Thorin was still debating whether or not Bilbo would be of any use in their quest.
I appreciate that they’ve had to create new story lines in order to make what is a fairly short book (my copy is 276 pages) stretch over three films but they could have left Bilbo to develop at the same speed. I have no real issues with the elements they have created (although I didn’t like Radagast much) but I don’t see why they’ve messed about with the aspects of the story that are in the book.
Having said that before seeing the film I had severe doubts about Martin Freeman playing Bilbo but in actual fact I greatly enjoyed his performance. And having read in The Metro that the dwarves are all deeply annoying I was pleasantly surprised by them as well. Of course as was to be expected the ultimate scene-stealer is Andy Serkis as Gollum who is the best character in the film by a mile as he was in The Lord of the Rings.
So all in all I enjoyed this adaptation (and I had high expectations after Jackson’s treatment of The Lord of the Rings) almost as much as I enjoyed the book.