'The Hobbit' Book Discussion

As per this thread, I now launch a reading/discussion of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien novel, The Hobbit. I’ve never participated in one of these book discussions, let alone begun one, so any advice as to structure and pace would be appreciated.

I’ve got the 60th-anniversary hardcover edition of the book. It’s printed on 288 pages of very fine paper and has illustrations by Alan Lee throughout, many of them in color. Thror’s map at the front and the map of “Wilderland” at the back are both printed in black and red ink.

Of course, we don’t all have to be so fancy, and any edition will do for purposes of this thread. We’ll just not refer to passages by page number, okay?

I’m currently halfway through the first chapter, “An Unexpected Party.” The dwarves have just finished helping Bilbo put away his dishes and have brought out their musical instruments.

Who’s in for this discussion?

If it’s Tolkien, I’m in by definition.

One notable thing about the Unexpected Party is those very musical instruments. Right there is practically the only mention of musical instruments in Middle-Earth. (Except for the drums of the Woses in the Druadan Forest, but that’s another story.) There are many, many songs in Middle-Earth, but no tubas.

What Maeglin said.

Unfortunately, I’m at work, no book handy, but you’ll be hearinf from me soon.

I am a huge Tolkein fan, but I’m kinda “eh” on The Hobbit. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t change my life or anything either. I have re-read LotR many times but never felt the need to re-read The Hobbit, except to page through the “important scene” – important to LotR that is.

Are you reading it for the first time?

The butler did it.

Sure, I’m in. Are we restricting discussion to just the Hobbit or are broader implications in regards to Tolkein’s other on topic as well? In addition what about spoilers. Are we to limit ourselves to what Fiver has read or can we wander more freely?

Jomo Mojo, you make a good point. The dwarves are depicted in The Trilogy as very pragmatic (if avaricious). Music doesn’t seem like something that would interest them.

But their behavior in The Hobbit, especially in “An Unexpected Party,” is uncharacteristic. Their impish behavior, what with playing the instruments and singing about cracking Bilbo’s plates and all, is more elvish than dwarvish, it seems to me.

I think this is partly because the novel was written for children; it needs this playful scene at the start. Moreover, the song about the dragon’s takeover of the Lonely Mountain serves a dual purpose: exposition, and awakening the “Tookish” side of Bilbo that wants to go on an adventure. See here:

It’s really that paragraph that sets up the rest of the book. And I think it’s the mood evoked by the instruments the dwarves are playing, as much as the words to the song itself, that stir Bilbo’s adventurous spirit.

rmariamp: I read it several times as a teenager, but this is my first time back in many, many years.

Bartman: I’d like to stay focused on just The Hobbit, although of course we can’t discuss it without frequent reference to the rest of Tolkien’s oeuvre. And, while obviously I’m not the boss of anyone’s reading pace, I’d like us to stay on the same page (pun only partially intended) for discussion purposes.

Howsabout we restrict our discussion to the first chapter until a post from me indicates we’ve advanced to the next?

Count me in! I love the Hobbit – of course, it doesn’t achieve the same grandeur as LotR does, but it’s so much fun. :slight_smile:

Oh, and as for the musical instruments – there aren’t any tubas in TH either! :wink: All the ones mentioned are basically OK for the medieval-ish world of Middle-earth… (I did a setting of this song a few years ago. It worked out pretty well, actually…)

Most folk come to Tolkein through ‘The Hobbit’ in their early teens but of course it is partway through a much greater whole.

Then they usually go on to the trilogy before finally going on at last to Silmarillion which is really the first in the series and carries the predictions.

Do you think there is anything to be gained doing it this way ? The whole seems to have been written to be approached like this which causes much backtracking and referencing, almost in the manner of a certain holy book in some ways.

it makes sense because The Hobbit is the easiest read (actually intended for children unlike LotR). The Sillmarillion is an unusually dense book and I think most people starting there would be put off continuing! You have to develop that deep and abiding love/obsession for Middle Earth before The Sillmarillion is worth it. Even then, I’m no so sure.

I’ve read ‘The Hobbit’ and LOTR several times, yet I’m still not sure why Gandalf suggested to the dwarves that Bilbo be a part of the mission to take back their mountain. He seems to be putting a hobbit that he is supposedly “quite fond of” in a great deal of danger. Are there any clues to the reason for this in the first chapter?

<short highjack: Fiver, when my sixth grade teacher(way back when) gave us “Watership Down” to read, I thought it was going to be a Naval Thriller. Imagine my suprise… Still loved the book, though.>

casdave, I do think the books should be read in that order. I’ve always thought of The Hobbit as the prologue, the trilogy as the actual story, and the Simarillion as an appendex (along with Unfinished Tales and other “unessential” works).

Anyway, count me in.


“Bet you weren’t expecting to see me again,” said the monster, which Arthur couldn’t help thinking was a strange remark for it to make, seeing as he had never met the creature before. He could tell that he hadn’t met the creature before from the simple fact that he was able to sleep at nights."

I’m in, too.

Two remarks:

I think an instrument is mentioned at the end of ROTK when everyone is recovering from the battle at the Morannon. They mention a troubador wandering about singing songs of great praise to Frodo, I think it mentions an instrument.

I am sure that is explained that Gandalf sent Bilbo because of one of those coincidences that may have been Providential. (Caps intentional) Gandalf was using his Maia foresight and “saw” that there was a bigger part to Bilbo’s going than just the adventure to Lonely Mountain. Sorry, I do not have the book handy, but try reading the passage when Gandalf is talking to Frodo at Bag End.

Back to the instruments, briefly.

I don’t have it in front of me at the moment, but I think there is mention of harps in use at Rivendell in FOTR. Very much in passing, not important to what’s going on, just setting the scene. IIRC, it is after the feast in Frodo’s honor, when he see’s Bilbo again for the first time.

Anyway, I read TH at 11 for the first time and moved right in. Tried to tackle LOTR at 13, but was not entirely successful (I didn’t understand a third of what was going on, but I sure liked it). Now I’ve read them all, including the Silmarillion, several times. Happy to jump in on any discussion.

Regarding Gandalf’s choice of Bilbo, Gandalf is mentioned to have known several of Bilbo’s antecedents, particularly on the Took side, and as KeithB pointed out, he’s pretty good at making judgement calls. Hobbits have qualities which make them good thieves, as any D&Der knows, and Gandalf probably saw something in Bilbo that Bilbo would never have seen in himself - interest and ability.

I didn’t like the Hobbit. Normally that would make me eager to participate, if only to provide a dissenting voice.

Unfortunately, I discovered I didn’t like it 15 years ago and haven’t been back since. But I will read this thread with interest.

I think you called it, lucie. We could assume Gandalf can see the future, but I think ascribing that power to him diminishes his character: Gandalf is wise and intelligent, and a shrewd judge of character. He could see the resourcefulness, the adventurous Took spirit, that lurked within Bilbo, even though Bilbo himself couldn’t.

(And Beeblebrox, I never understood how a grassy field could get the name “Watership” either.)

I always thought that Tolkien didn’t have the overarching vision we see in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Silmarillion’ when he wrote ‘The Hobbit’.

a) In ‘The Hobbit’ he refers to “goblins” and uses the word “orc” only once or maybe twice.
b) In ‘The Hobbit’ there is not the “clear-cut” division amongst men, elves, dwarves that we see in LOTR. For example Beorn shows up with no good explanation of how he would fit in that scheme.
c) The elves are not the noble characters that we see in ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘LOTR’.

To intelligently discuss the book “chapter by chapter” I’ll have to go back and re-read it, because knowing the whole story as I do I can’t really say what my impressions would be having only read the first chapter. I remember when I read it originally that I thought Bilbo was a fool running out without a handkerchief. (I’m prone to allergies and a handkerchief is a very useful thing.)

from this page:


Yes, that’s right folks. I made a subtle reference to Mr. Baggins in the Chorus of my (former) band’s song, Black Licorice.

hehe…just thought you might find this mildly amusing.

I don’t know that I’ll have any particularly original ideas, but I’ll participate. I just finished rereading this and the trilogy a month or two back.

As my first unoriginal thought, I’ll point out that Tolkein had to do a pretty fair amount of 'splaining in the beginning of LOTR to fit the Hobbit into the same world.