Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Hobbit

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Everyone has read The Hobbit, and with Peter Jackson's movie under production at this writing, many will be reading it for a tenth or twentieth time.

Is The Hobbit a children's book? Yes and no. Keep in mind the man, and the times. Tolkien was a survivor of trench warfare in the World War, the most brutal and dehumanizing form of hate and ugliness mankind had yet devised. He would not have been eager to glorify combat, and indeed the focus is on the adventure rather than the hack and slash.

I'll not compare the morals and mores of 1930s Britain to the world of today, except to note that children then were more mature, and adults were less jaded. The Hobbit struck the right balance for the time. In a world without television, Middle Earth was good entertainment.

In my re-reading, I found one particular passage very interesting. Recall the scene of confrontation between Thorin Oakenshield's dwarves and the men of the devastated Lake-town. Bard makes an appeal to Thorin for a share of the treasure, citing the damage and death done to innocents and the fact that a good portion of the gold had come from their ancestors. A very stirring case, and the reader finds himself nodding along. "Yeah! We gave the dwarves food and shelter, and sang songs about them, and they went up there and got Old Smaug all fired up, and now they're going to keep all the cookies? All we got out of the deal was burnt stumps where our town used to be!"*

But then Thorin makes his reply, reminding the Lake-men that he himself is the rightful heir to the Kingdom Under The Mountain. "You people come marching up here to my house, armed with bows and spears, demanding a share of what is mine? You can leave you weapons at home, and ask nicely, and we might talk. But as it is, you look like thieves and robbers, and we don't negotiate with terrorists!"*

Both are good arguments, who is right? It may not be the exact point Tolkien is trying make, but I took from this the thought that forced charity isn't charity at all - that a grudging charity only leads to hatred and bloodshed. The author doesn't answer the question; the standoff is resolved when goblins swarm down the mountain and all sides must unite for survival.

Or maybe that is his answer.

Read The Hobbit again. It's still as good as it was the first time. And if you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?

*I'm paraphrasing, of course.

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