The Hobbit was supposed to be my (erm’s) introduction to high fantasy, which is my father’s realm. My mother isn’t a big fan, or even a fan of high fantasy at all, but even she insisted that I read The Hobbit, as she too had read it as a kid and had liked it.
I was reluctant because my favourite books were The Unicorns of Balinor series, which I had read over and over, and some of the Bailey School Kids books as well. My teachers insisted that I could read levels above that stuff, so I should get cracking or my reading comprehension skills wouldn’t be further developed. My parents took this to heart and thrust The Hobbit at me.
I started out annoyed. I wanted to read about supernatural creatures staffing the entirety of Bailey School or unicorns ruling Balinor over again, because I liked them and they were familiar. But I was compelled to read The Hobbit, and this I did.
I hated it. I think I went in planning to hate it, but JRR didn’t help himself any. His narrator in this book is patronizing as hell, sort of like what you’d find in a Jane Yolen book. Occasionally he (and it has to be a he, there are no women in this book) interjects to scold the reader for doubting Bilbo. When I was in university and had to reread it for a class, I found the narrator charming and whimsical, but I was told by my prof that Tolkien later regretted the tone and intrusiveness of the narrator. I think for me at age nine, forced to read a book I didn’t want to read by every adult authority figure in my life, having another narrative authority tell me what to think about the story I was reading was the death knell in my ability to enjoy any of it.
So the movies: there are three of them, and we all know that this is excessive. After all, each book from The Lord of the Rings trilogy only got one movie, and they are all longer than little old The Hobbit. But stretching the book into three movies means that the filmmakers could add some things, and some of these additions and other changes, when taken together, actually fix every criticism of The Hobbit my nine-year-old self had made.
- The narrator: as I mentioned, I wanted to punch the narrator for telling me what to think. Happily the movies have no narrator, and problem solved.
- Gandalf: buddy was pretty useless in the book. He kept leaving at convenient moments so that Bilbo and the dwarves would have to face serious danger without the easy solution of having a wizard in their company. The movies give Gandalf a subplot, so that in each example of this (apart from when they meet the trolls) we know why Gandalf isn’t with them.
- The Dwarves: this was a treasure hunt, and I hate treasure hunts. The dwarves wanted to march off to the dragon Smaug’s keep to take all of his gold and they needed a burglar. I wasn’t invested at all in their quest. I thought they ought to leave the dragon alone with his fortune.
- Bilbo: as a direct consequence of his being the burglar on this quest, I wasn’t happy about Bilbo being a thief. The worst part was Gollum – I was already rooting for Bilbo to get eaten, but instead Bilbo bested Gollum rather unfairly and took his one possession in the world, leaving him despairing. I continued to hate Bilbo until the movie version, mostly out of spite, but the movies changed all of that because Martin Freeman.
- The ponies: the fact that the ponies all got eaten by the goblins but the greedy dwarves and Bilbo got to escape with their lives made me VERY mad. There’s a reason animal sidekicks (usually) never die in Disney movies, Tolkien. I am being serious, though, it upset me. All it did was emphasize that their quest was dangerous and unimportant, and the only victims of it at this point were the innocent ponies. The moment the smarmy narrator informed me they were to be eaten, I began hoping the dragon would kill them all, knowing that he wouldn’t, suspecting that instead the group, or maybe Gandalf, would kill the dragon instead and it would be incorrectly labelled a victory by that same insufferable narrator.
- So the dragon: I loved the part where Smaug makes fun of Bilbo. I didn’t expect him to talk and was happily surprised by that. I awaited, resigned, that moment where Gandalf (it would probably be Gandalf, right?) would slay Smaug and the dwarves could swim around in gold and jewels. And then what happened? Well, Random, son of Random, from Random’s Ville who graced like three pages of this book grabbed some random arrow and shot it so that it pierced Smaug in some random weak spot in his jewelry armor. I can’t even describe how cheated I felt about that.
- Um how about that there are no women in this mess.
The movies changed all of this. Bilbo I admit was mostly just me getting over myself, but giving Gandalf somewhere to be, giving the dwarves a good reason to want to get rid of Smaug and get the treasure, making the ponies run away instead of getting eaten, giving Bard a family and a backstory and lots of screentime, and the addition of several women, but Tauriel especially, fixed all of my problems.
I know people have complained about Tauriel being a Mary Sue and look, I could have done without the romance plot too. But if this character, love triangle or no love triangle, had been in the book, I may have been able to look past all of my other problems, because she would have been a lovely self-image fantasy for all of us girl types. Bilbo doesn’t cut it, though he was either supposed to cut it or Tolkien and his publishers weren’t interested in girls reading it. When I began reading about how people of colour and LGBT people were asking for more representation the biggest reason I empathized immediately was my memories of how tiresome it was reading this particular book. Even though I had my Disney movies and my Balinor books, being told I had to move on, and that this was the sort of stuff I would be expected to read from now on was maddening.
My parents asked me how I liked it once I reported to them that I was done, even though every time they checked in with me previously I had said, “It’s boring. I don’t like it.” They just replied with, “You just have to keep reading and wait for the good parts.”
I said, “I read and read and read, and I was waiting for the good parts, and then it ended.”
They didn’t force other books on me again, but I’m sure they would have eventually.
If it hadn’t been for Harry Potter.