Book Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again

J.R.R. Tolkien

Usually viewed as a fantasy classic, The Hobbit is also a quintessential pilgrimage tale. Really, the same could be said of any of Tolkien’s later Lord of the Rings books. 

But it was as I thought of Bilbo’s reflections on his own journey “there and back again” that I realized his steps out of the ordinary and down a long, walking path filled with challenges far away was truly in the spirit of pilgrimage.

Summary of The Hobbit

From J.R.R. Tolkien's own description for the original edition: “If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world, over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a humble hero (blessed with a little wisdom and a little courage and considerable good luck), here is a record of such a journey and such a traveler…” 

This 322-page tale begins with a visit from a wizard and some unusual guests that will change our hero’s life.

The humble hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is in fact a very unlikely hero. He lives in a comfortable countryside hamlet in a cozy hobbit hole with a big fireplace and food and lots of peace and quiet. (In fact, it looks a lot like rural England of Tolkien’s time.) Bilbo is fairly prosperous. You’d think he wouldn’t need anything. 

But there’s also more to him than he knows—a bigger story and a bigger world he’s meant to be part of. His will be a journey of adventure and peril, but also of meaning. Becoming. Facing evil and not giving in. 

He’s changed by the journey, as we all are when we give ourselves to the path and open up to growth.

The hobbit will face goblins, trolls, a dragon, and greedy hordes of elves and men before it’s all done. 

My Thoughts on the Book

Bilbo is nothing flashy and seemingly nothing special. He is the hero of a fantasy book filled with supernatural things, yet he has no super powers and no magic. 

He’s short, prosaic, and has leathery, hairy feet. Exactly the sort of person who’s often overlooked by the mighty, who see only a simple, child-sized individual without much to offer when the world is at stake.

But he’s very capable. He’s also courageous and keen-witted. He shows what ordinary people can do when they just keep walking.

He’s sometimes pridefully foolish (or foolishly proud), but he’s basically good. His resistance to the desire for power turns out to be one of his finest qualities and a key factor in why he’s right for the job. 

Modern readers may be put off by the long introduction, but it’s necessary world building that provides a lot of information about hobbits generally. It’s when you understand the hobbit world that you realize what an extraordinary thing it is for Bilbo to join in on this journey. 

It’s a great introduction to the later series and currently free on Kindle Unlimited (as of 23 May 2021). My son and I have fond memories of this one!

Good reading for tweens who are confident readers, on up.