Approaching Tolkien: ‘The Hobbit’

approaching hobbit - header

(Above: My very complicated and masterful artwork …)

– Tackling your first adventure to Middle-earth

In the coming posts, I will hopefully try and provide a quick explanation on how to tackle the three major books by Tolkien. These will be primarily targeted to anyone who has yet to start reading the works and whilst I’m offering my own opinions on the subject, anyone is free to submit their own thoughts here!

– So where to begin?

As I had stated in a previous post (Where to start?), if it’s your first time to Middle-earth in books (whether you’ve seen any of the films or not), I’d suggest you begin with ‘The Hobbit’.h

Originally written in 1937 as a children’s book, Tolkien relates the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (“the hobbit” himself) with a company of dwarves and a wizard by the name of Gandalf.

The book itself is highly enjoyable and very easy to read. The words flow fluently and Tolkien cleverly introduces us to Middle-earth from “untrained” eyes – slowly building up the detail and richness of the world as the narrative unfolds.

Names (including characters and locations) are not that hard to learn (or pronounce), unless you’re trying to state all of the dwarves’ names under 5 seconds!

The book comes with a short introductory note written by Tolkien, where he establishes a few etymological concerns and provides a very interesting clue to discover the Dwarvish runic/alphabet system.

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Along with the note, every publication reprints two distinct maps: the map of Wilderland and Thror’s map. The former (see below) is a “close-up” section of a specific area in Middle-earth, focusing mainly on Bilbo and the Company’s adventure across those lands. The latter (see above) is a detail of Erebor – the Lonely Mountain, the ultimate goal and destination of the novel’s quest.

I’ve already stated the importance of going through these essential tools provided by the books themselves: and this is certainly wmno different. It might go without saying, but referencing both maps as you go along the story will give you much more insight and a sense of realism to the narrative. Not only that, but it helps orientate you within the world – it being a very vast and complex landscape.

The story, however, follows a pretty linear track and other places and environments are only glimpsed at (many will feature later on in ‘The Lord of the Rings’).

As far as I’m aware, every publication also provides a set of artworks done by Tolkien himself to accompany certain parts of the text. Yet again, it is very amusing to see the author’s own thoughts transferred within a visual context and (just like the maps) they may also assist a novice Tolkien reader to visualize the intricacies of the environments.

Tolkien's illustration of Bilbo Baggins's home

Any edition of the book is good – whether you prefer hardback or paperback, black and white or coloured-illustrations, small or large fonts, just make sure you have the unabridged version of the text with the aforementioned maps and drawings within the book itself.

Having done that, you are now ready to embark on your journey to Middle-earth!

But be wary, you might easily get lost there. And though certainly not an unpleasant thing, take heed of which characters or places you care for the most – for they will become dear to you and you’ll wish you could visit them over and over again …

Finally, ‘The Hobbit’ really is the perfect introduction to Middle-earth, and a reading experience that will make ‘The Lord of the Rings’ feel even more rich and sophisticated.

(Maps and illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien from ‘The Hobbit’)

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