Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, May 23, 2001

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up--probably lighting a wood-fire--and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again.

The best fantasy books I have ever read. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit...” I found the animated movie to be marvelous as well. And the new movies by Peter Jackson are awesome! Great, great stuff.

AuthorJ. R. R. Tolkien
Length1,680 pages
Book Rating9

The Hobbit” is a lightly-written fairy-tale of Hobbit Bilbo Baggins’ journey to the Dwarven home. It includes elves, a wizard, and wonderfully odd characters such as Beorn, the Elves of the Last Home, and the Dragon Smaug. Bilbo is caught up in a strange adventure with a troupe of dwarves and a wizard. The tone of “The Hobbit” is very different from the rest of the series; it is an adult story written as a children’s story. Bilbo awakens one morning to an old man blowing smoke rings outside of his “hole in the ground”. This old man rested on a staff and wore a pointed blue hat, and his beard hung nearly to his waist. It seems the old wizard, Gandalf, has chosen Bilbo as the fourteenth man to accompany a troup of thirteen dwarves. Thirteen is an unlucky number, and in any case they needed a good burglar. That Bilbo never considered himself a burglar, and in fact had never burgled, bothered the wizard not in the slightest.

I think that part of the success of “The Hobbit” can be attributed to its “moral” about war (which I can’t explain further until you’ve read the book, and then you won’t need me to). But it is also an engaging story of a middle-aged nobody’s coming-of-age. Bilbo passes through fire, literally, and emerges, if not a hero, than at least a story-teller.

There are two versions of “The Hobbit”, although finding the older version is likely to be difficult today. The first telling had a slightly different story of Bilbo’s acquisition of the ring. On finishing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien “corrected” Bilbo’s white lie about the riddle game to bring “The Hobbit” in line with the later work.

“The Lord of the Rings” is a darker, heavier story, and it covers three volumes. Bilbo’s adopted son Frodo inherits Bilbo’s treasure, and a responsibility Bilbo didn’t know he had. A vast evil is overtaking the world, and the good peoples of the world may not be able to join together in time to stand against it. The story, however, is not of the kings and generals, but of Frodo and his three hobbit friends as they pass through the plans of those much greater than themselves. Their journey takes them from the peaceful Shire to the heart of Mordor, where the dark one’s power is strongest. While the story begins with snippets of the light-heartedness of “The Hobbit”, for example when the Hobbits meet Tom Bombadil and the River’s Daughter, it quickly becomes a much more serious work. Even the Elves of the Last Home seem different characters here than they were less than a hundred years earlier in Bilbo’s time.

There have been many attempts to compare the fight against Morder to the fight against Hitler, but Tolkien himself says that no such parallel was intended. It is mostly a story about temptation, on many levels. Both the powerful and the small, the wise and the foolish, countries, groups, and individuals, are subjected to temptation throughout the series. How all of these entities deal with temptation is the real story of “The Lord of the Rings”, in my opinion. A great story will present parallels to the real world, and this is a great story.

This collection collects all four of the original books in the series: “The Hobbit”, and the three volumes of the Lord of the Rings trilogy: “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers”, and “The Return of the King”. That makes it a pretty good deal. If you read fantasy, if you play fantasy games, you will want to read “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”. So you might as well get them all together.

The Silmarillion” was published posthumously, and it is the hardest and easiest of the lot. Easier because many of the stories can be read separately. Harder because, well, his writing style here is very stylized and the thing reads like the Bible turned into a history lesson. If “The Return of the King” left you begging for more, you will want “The Silmarillion”, because it gives you more, and gives you a greater insight into the depth and breadth of Tolkien’s vision. But if you just thought the first four were fun stories, chances are good that you won’t feel the same for “The Silmarillion”.

The “Lost Tales” series is probably for serious fans only: those two books contain earlier versions of the stories told in “The Silmarillion”. I have not even read either of these myself.

I’ve included “A Tolkien Bestiary” here, by David Day. It is not in any way by Tolkien, but it is a fascinating collection of the creatures of the Tolkien mythos. I used to have the hardcover edition, and can heartily recommend it.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

J. R. R. Tolkien

Recommendation: Purchase

If you enjoyed The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings…

For more about fantasy, you might also be interested in Excalibur, Highlander, The Hobbit, Ladyhawke, Pan’s Labyrinth, A Princess of Mars, Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison, and The Worm Ouroboros.

For more about J. R. R. Tolkien, you might also be interested in The Hobbit.

For more about Lord of the Rings, you might also be interested in The battle for Helm’s Deep has begun and Churchill’s good earth.