I first read The Hobbit in 1967, the 1965 US paperback edition from the 1956 second edition of the novel. Sadly I gave away that edition many years ago. With all the publicity surrounding the new Peter Jackson movie I decided to reread it in the same edition. It turns out that it’s a lot more expensive now than the 95 cents I paid then.
Reading it again after all these years I was surprised to feel some of the same delight I felt the first time. The early scene where Bilbo’s home is invaded by an ever growing troupe of dwarves works as well now as it did then, as do much of the early parts of the journey. And the frequent refrain of Bilbo wishing only to back in his Hobbit hole, ‘and not for the last time’, seems as fresh and as telling now as it ever did.
Overall, though, I was struck by the extent to which The Hobbit is juvenile fiction. And I think it seems especially so by comparison with the ring trilogy. It certainly has none of the sense of existential struggle of the latter work, nor the ultimate sorrow and loss that concludes the trilogy. The Hobbit does share some of the Arcadian perspective of the trilogy - indications that the world was a better, grander place in earlier times, and is now a decaying shadow of what once was. But in The Hobbit this is only presented in passing, and serves mostly to explain why it was so hard for 13 dwarves and one Hobbit to get through a forest and up a river.
Parts of the novel now seem truncated. The meeting with Gollum and the riddle contest, for example, seem shorter than I remembered. And the stay at Elrond’s house was a revelation to me: the depiction of elves is quite different than in the trilogy. They are portrayed as being almost ridiculously frivolous, and little hint is given of their nature as depicted in the later work.
I’m quite glad to have read this for the second time, and to have it back on my shelf, but I doubt I’ll ever read it again. It simply doesn’t hold up to the much more serious work that followed.