Six Degrees of Kool Books: The Hobbit
Welcome to the “Kool Books” series. If you stumbled across this post and are wondering just what this whole “six degrees” thing means, please see my original post about how it all works.
To kick off this “kool” new series there were so many books I could have chosen, but the more I thought about it, one book just seemed to be a natural fit. That’s because this book in many ways is what started me out on my love of reading in the first place. The book I’m referring to is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I first stumbled across this delightful adventure as a young man and the enchantment of that first reading has only grown over the years. It’s a book that has captured not only my imagination, but the imaginations of countless others. During the past ten years, buoyed the popularity of the cinematic versions I daresay Tolkien’s work may be enjoying it’s widest audience ever, 77 years after the book’s publication and 30 years after the author’s death. Quite remarkable for a book whose opening words are so charmingly plain:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
While I’m sure the majority of those who will read this article are well-acquainted with the the story, I’ll provide a brief summary here. As I do, I’ll highlight a few of the more important characters in bold. Those will be the ones my fellow “kool books” contributors might want to consider as inspirations for their own posts, though they’re certainly welcome to pick characters I failed to mention if they’ve read the book themselves.
The adventure starts off in the Shire, a pastoral place inhabited by hobbits, small half-sized humans with furry feet and a penchant for the pastoral life and simple pleasures. The main character, Bilbo Baggins, is seemingly content with his own comings and goings amongst his neighbors and family. But when the mysterious and wise wizard Gandalf arrives, along with a company of hearty dwarves in search of treasure, they manage to convince him to set off with them on an adventure that will take him far from his little hole at Bag End in the Shire.
Hired as the company’s “burglar”, Bilbo surprises even himself with his resourcefulness and ability in getting the dwarves and their company out of tight spots. These include run-ins with trolls, goblins, spiders, and a certain great and terrible dragon named Smaug. This greedy and wily creature has taken up residence in the ancestral home of the dwarves known as the Lonely Mountain. But Thorin, leader of the company of dwarves and rightful heir to the kingdom his people were driven from, has in his possession a map which shows a secret entrance into the mountain. All Bilbo and friends need to do is travel half way across Middl-earth, sneak up on the dragon and reclaim their treasure.
As I already mentioned, Bilbo earns his share of the treasure several times over as the story unfolds. The unflappable Mr. Baggins is often forced to steer by his own compass, but that compass always points true north when it comes to friendship and courage. In the end, however, despite his faithful service to the company, a, shall we say “misunderstanding” between the prideful Thorin and the intrepid hobbit nearly ends up costing the whole company dearly.
In a certain sense this is a light-hearted romp narrated in the same vein as many classic fairy tales. What makes it unique, I think, can be found in the title. As far as I am aware very few, if any other stories such as this have featured the race of Hobbits. These curious creatures are eminently likable and full of cheer. They remind us of the simple pleasures in life and hearken back to older times when everything did not seem to rush by at such breakneck speed.
I could go on about the other minor characters in this book. Elrond, Beorn, Bard of Dale–all are so compelling that other authors might have been tempted to write hole books on them, but here only short sections of the narrative are reserved for these characters. And rightfully so, as the paths of Bilbo and his friends is so interesting in and of itself.
Gandalf, by the way, does leave the company for a time but returns at the end of the book. While other books have certainly featured wizards before and after him, it’s hard to conceive of a more prototypical one. His knowledge and experience clearly extend far beyond that of the others in the company and yet he often does not feel the need to fill them in as to exactly what he knows. While Gandalf’s role is at times humorous and light in this story, he will go on to become one of the main characters in Tolkien’s later, more serious works where his role as counselor, mentor, and protector of the free peoples of Middle-Earth comes into its fullness.
So there you have it. A brief summary touching on a few of the notable players in this fantastic little book. Here readers will find imagination and fun, friendship and folly, and ancient, unknown lands that feel somehow familiar. I trust there were enough characters in this post to spark the imaginations of the next set of writers in the “Kool Books” series. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with!