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An old favourite, of course; but it must be a very long time since last I read it. I anticipated correctly that the lack of female characters would now seem an obvious gap; I had forgotten that there were so many sapient animals - the wolves, the birds, Beorn's friends. It is well-paced, and generally fair to the reader. I was surprised by how little page space Smaug gets.

Bilbo is a much more interesting character than I had remembered. His moments of heroism are not through violence but through moral strength: in particular, his attempts to prevent the Elves and Dwarves from fighting. That said, the Gollum business and the Arkenstone incident both show certain ambiguities in his heroism.

Gandalf, somewhat to my surprise, comes over as an arch-manipulator. He pulls Bilbo onto the adventure very much against his will, and the battle with Smaug and then the Goblins is almost a proxy conflict for the ongoing Cold War against Sauron/the Necromancer, the point being to consolidate the northeastern corner of the map. But it looks rather like the Battle of the Five Armies is a deliberate rehearsal for the War of the Ring, orchestrated by Gandalf.

I've been reading the edition with Tolkien's own sketches. Let's be honest: they are not very good - studies of perspective, really, with the humanoid figures barely recognisable as such. The trolls in the picture hide behind the trees, in clear contradiction to the text. Providing the author's own drawings gives some extra authenticity, but I think they could have been saved for one of the spinoff volumes.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 29th, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
I suppose Gandalf is manipulative because he's a sort of archetypal parent.
Jul. 29th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
Gandalf seems manipulative only if I view the book in the context of the LotR (and if I do that, the contradictions between the books become more obvious). Outside of that, he strikes me more as someone who's trying to get three jobs done at once, and two of those jobs are None of the Dwarves' (and Hobbit's) Business, so sometimes Gandalf's there and sometimes he's not.
Aug. 2nd, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
I read "The Hobbit" before the LOTR trilogy, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much this book helps you get into the whole Middle Earth spirit before embarking on the far more epic adventure of the One Ring. Without knowledge of "The Hobbit", reading the LOTR trilogy becomes significantly more difficult. It's like you said: Gandalf's tendency to manipulate (but for a good cause, let's be honest) is already present here. Thus it makes more sense to see his involvement in the matter of Frodo and the Ring, and everything else that occurs.. he is such a pivotal character, but in his own way.

Well, if anything, that movie had better come soon, because it'd be a crying shame to have such an excellent LoTR trilogy on DVD without its predecessor to accompany it...

Edited at 2009-08-02 01:28 pm (UTC)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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