“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
Millions of boys and girls from nine to ninety will recognise the wonderful opening lines of JRR Tolkien’s first book, The Hobbit.
The Hobbit is a story of an unlikely hero named Bilbo Baggins; a comfortably well off and set in his ways genteel respectable type, who is jolted out of his life long reverie by an out of the blue visit from the enchanting figure of Gandalf the wizard.
After a testing conversation on Bilbo’s doorstep, Bilbo unwittingly and rashly, in his haste to get rid of this bothersome old man, beckons him to come back to tea at a later date.
No sooner has he has forgotten about his promise, his adventure starts by the impromptu visit of thirteen dwarfs, at Gandalf’s appointed (but forgotten by Bilbo) visit for tea.
Caught up in the ensuing talk of lost maps, secret treasure and ferocious dragons, Bilbo’s conservative nature melts away in thoughts of Lonely and Misty mountains and for a while his ‘Tookish’ side takes over.
When in the morning Bilbo awakens again to a lonely Hobbit-hole, a battle of conscience erupts and so starts the beginnings of a magnificent story of courage and honour that has caught the imaginations of boys and girls of every age ever since the book was first published in 1937.
The writing craft of Tolkien fires the imagination of the reader. The book becomes a page turner and students of all ages will get caught up in the story, willing on our little champion, though he struggles incessantly.
It is a story which highlights the good and evil in the world, predominately of selflessness and valour on on side, and greed and pride on the other.
Tolkien reminds us that in Bilbo, the insignificant nobody from a forgotten backwater called the Shire, the most unlikely of characters can rise up and be a giant amongst men for the cause of loyalty, friendship and perseverance.
Some Catholic readers have worried unnecessarily around the ‘magic’ element found within the book. However Tolkien always wrote always from a Catholic perspective and any ‘magic’ is more ‘miraculous’ in nature.
Thus, Gandalf with his staff is more like an Old Testament Moses figure with his staff, rather than viewed as some Harry Potter type magician.
Tolkien should be seen always as a narrator not of ‘fantasy’ but of myth: a vehicle suitably robust to carry essential Truths in narrative form, like the parables of the New Testament which are stories of Truth, not of strict fact.
As with Tolkien’s subsequent works that include The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, the persistent thread is one of Sacrifice. Nothing worthwhile can come unless we sacrifice for Good and Truth.
Bilbo Baggins, the unlikely hero of the tale, is just the little fellow to show us how we can win our battles against selfishness and comfortableness and take up the struggle, rather than thinking there is always someone else who will.
Students will see in the end, that evil will cast its dark shadow sooner or later upon us, unless we shake ourselves and like Bilbo, do our bit too.
This story is recommended for upper primary and high school students.