8 Feb 2010

Fairy-Tale or High Adventure? Thoughts on The Hobbit genre

Before I start a little disclaimer : I am a hobbit and not a scholar or a professional journalist, the thoughts express in this article ( and in Once Upon A Hobbit in general) are very personal - I just put them down on the page as they come to me, in my very 'hobbitish' style :) .

I often say that I love The Hobbit story but never really explained why - The Hobbit speaks to me of worthiness and greatness and delight of life, but also about a recurrent theme in many fairy-tales, the triumph of good over evil . Against all odds, all hold a secret hope that at the end we will be victorious in our lives. The message in the story is clear. Generally thought of as a book aimed for young readers, mainly due to its rhythm and style, The Hobbit is much more lyrical then its sequel The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is a tale of adventure, of friendship, and discovery but there is much more then that. Sinister elements do appear - goblins, trolls, wrags, and venomous spiders. Gollum is prepared to have hobbit meat for dinner when he meets Bilbo wondering in his cave - furthermore there are Wood-Elves with an attitude and antagonistic Men, regardless of their individual motivations, as readers we must learn to deal with them, no matter how awkward it may be. True is that all these encounters will not harm Bilbo however the book does contain casualties and dark moments when battle approaches and all hope seem lost. In the first part of the story Gandalf's presence its reassuring, somehow you know that as long as the wizard and his magic powers are there , all will be all right --It is when Gandalf departs and leave the Company that The Hobbit somehow changes its tone ; it becomes more heroic, Bilbo has changed into a braver hobbit, he is now a Ring-Bearer although the meaning of this role its not clear at this point.

So In The Hobbit we have some classical fairy-tales elements such as Elves and Dwarves, the dragon, trolls and goblins who are Faerie Folks, and that can often be found in Fairy-Tales, and we have the more mundane elements easily identified in the battles and fights and in the very 'human' traits such as aggression and greed that many of the characters do show throughout the story. In his essay 'On Fairy-Stories' , Tolkien explain that an essential element of a fairy-tale is that such tale is presented as credible . Using fantasy to bring the reader to experience a consistent and rational world , which does sound and look familiar so that you can review the real world through a fantastical perspective, the tale is offering some escape from reality and morale guidance in the classic fairy-tale 'happy ending'.

In The Hobbit, Tolkien transform a 'fantasy' world into a very credible one. Wood-Elves are aggressive, Dwarves are a bit greedy and grumpy, Men are...well, just human :) Add to this mix one simple hobbit, and you have an amazing tale. Hobbits may be known for their shyness and fondness of home comforts that endear all those who meet them (bar goblins, black riders, giant spiders and a few more), but they are also remembered as brave and honest folks. In the songs of Middle-earth hobbits such as Samwise Gamgee and Bilbo Baggins are remembered fondly as unlikely heroes, heroes that made up what they may lack in size with bravery, honesty and friendship. I do not deny The Hobbit is an epic adventure of fantastical proportion, I am just saying that it is an 'epic fairy-tale' which can and does appeal to readers of all ages, Tolkien is helping the reader to grow a bit older and a bit wiser near the end, just like Bilbo is when he returns to Bag End.

(Art by David Wenzel)