Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Hobbit

The Hobbit.

A number of years ago, my friend Mike and I were discussing Tolkien and we were idly musing whether or not when writing The Hobbit he had in mind the story of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, more specifically, the character and role of Gollum. This was pre-Wikipedia days, so questions like that were not quite as easily answered. I had to research it through more annoying means and eventually discovered that he did not. At least not fully.

Tolkien's first edition of The Hobbit was different than the later versions since he started work on the LotR books and needed to change things, specifically the encounter with Gollum. In the original telling, Gollum is a bit more kindly to Bilbo. In the riddle contest, Gollum offers to give Bilbo a nice present if Bilbo wins. When he does win, Gollum goes to try to find the ring to give to Bilbo for winning the contest, but does not know that Bilbo has already found it and it was in his pocket. Distraught that he does not have a present to give to Bilbo now, he begs his pardon and instead offers to show him the way out of the goblin tunnels.

Not exactly the ring obsessed creature that he was in the later versions and in the sequel trilogy. So, the copy of The Hobbit that I have is the annotated version, that is full of footnotes and also has a footnote in the Riddles in the Dark chapter that recites the original version of that chapter, though I only read the nastier, more wretched version of Gollum's chapter from the newer version.

Anyway, this was by far the longest story that Molly has followed. Portions of it were well over her head, but we would have a discussion and chapter recap at the end of each chapter, and she followed it surprisingly well. Still, a lot of the story bits dragged on a bit and Tolkien really can be unnecessarily wordy at times, especially for a children's story. It's really not meant for 4 year olds. Maybe 8-12 is a better age range to really have the attention span to get through some of the long, unnecessary over-descriptions in some of the more dull chapters.

Each chapter took about 30-45 minutes to read to her, depending on their length. I am by no means a voice-smith, but I had fun with the different voices for each character to try to differentiate them to make it easier for Molly to follow. However, I found that chapters that were heavy with Dwarf-dialogue really tore up my throat.

It's also interesting to see which parts of the story really resonated with Molly. She loved Gollum (and the voice I did for him), which was to be expected. She really liked Beorn, who didn't make the cut in the Rankin and Bass Hobbit cartoon. But the minor things that she kept bringing up again and again?

1. The Dwarves bending Bilbo's forks. They didn't really, but they sing about it in the "That's What Bilbo Baggins hates" song in a sort of teasing manner in Chapter One. We couldn't get through another paragraph in that chapter without her asking me, "Why did they bend his forks, Daddy?" "Do all Dwarves bend forks?" "How's Bilbo going to eat dinner with his forks bended?" However, ten chapters later, when eating dinner with Beorn, Molly would interrupt me to say, "Those Dwarves better not bend his forks because he'll be really mad at that and he can turn into a bear and fight them if they try." And when they found and got Smaug's treasure, Molly pointed out that maybe Bilbo could get new silverware from the dragon's treasure.

2. Bilbo losing the buttons on his jacket when escaping the goblins. Bilbo slipped through a small opening that was so tight that the buttons on his jacket broke off as he squeezed through it. Throughout the rest of the book, Molly was worried about Bilbo catching a cold because he wouldn't be able to keep his coat closed. The peril of the dragon guarding the treasure was nothing compared to the possibility of a chest-cold for Bilbo. However, Tolkien did address this; at the end of the book, he does point out that Bilbo had replaced the buttons on his coat with gold buttons bought with the treasure he obtained. However, even that happy coat button ending wasn't enough for Molly. When we finished the book, the first thing she asked me was, "Did Bilbo ever find the buttons that came off of his coat? Because I lost my hair tie at school and then I looked and I found it later." I pointed out that the difference was that Bilbo lost his buttons in the middle of a goblin lair and he had replacements now anyhow. This seemed to pacify her somewhat, though I know that deep down inside, she's still upset about the buttons being lost.

Anyhow, I really enjoyed the experience of reading this to Molly and she really seemed to enjoy it as well.

It is an odd piece when compared to the Lord of the Rings stories. Some things don't really work in context. I mean, the Trolls (William, Tom and Bert) don't really fit in with the later trolls in the books. They are afterward in later books retroactively described as "Stone Trolls" and while they turn to stone in daylight, no other trolls do. Mountain Trolls wielded Grond (thus the siege could go into dawn) and Cave Trolls were in Moria and they hardly seemed to be cockney Englishmen wanting have tea and scones with their dead dwarves.

Also, I have to say that the proud, fierce dwarves of Tolkien's tales of glory and honor are actually a rather inept and bumbling group of thirteen in the The Hobbit. I mean, descended from a proud line of kings, Thorin and his group are routinely captured by Trolls, Goblins, Spiders and Elves. They seemed to live up to their battle nature at the end of the book, but really I can't say that until that point that Thorin really was an inspiring king.

What I find interesting about Tolkien's dwarves, however, is that Tolkien based them off of Jewish stereotype, especially ones from Medieval times. Seriously. Check out the annotated book or The History of the Hobbit to read about Tolkien's intentional influences with his dwarves. They have negative Jewish stereotypes (greedy, gold-coveting, overly proud and meddling), they have a dispossessed homeland (in this case Lonely Mountain), they were skilled craftsmen (like medieval Jewish stereotype), the Dwarven calendar in The Hobbit begins in late autumn (like the Jewish calendar) and he crafted the Dwarven language based off of Hebrew, and, like Jewish culture, it is only spoken among themselves. One of the footnotes about Dwarves in the annotated book I have is a quote from Tolkien which read, "I do think of the Dwarves as Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of their country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue." Tokien has also mentioned that they Legolas-Gimli relationship in the later books is supposed to represent "Gentile anti-Semitism and Jewish exclusiveness". The Rankin and Bass cartoon also has each of the dwarves with a very large nose, though I don't think I can necessarily tie that one in here.

But cultural metaphors aside, The Hobbit was a great experience with Molly. Peter Jackson is directing a two-part Hobbit movie, which is aligned as a prequel to his LotR movies. The thing is, the tone is too different. I'm excited to see it with Molly, but it will have to make a choice. It will have to choose either the tone of the book, or the tone of the movie trilogy. The problem is that if it takes the tone of the book, it will not feel like the LotR movies and disappoint those fans. If it takes the tone of the LotR movies, then it will not be true to the book and disappoint those fans. They really should have just let the Rankin and Bass cartoon stand as the theatrical telling of the story.

With our book read, we'll be watching that movie later and I'm sure we'll review that as well.

Molly: (As usual, I'll be transcribing as much as I can from what she says. We're at my computer and I'll be typing up what we are saying as we talk and I'll go back and format it afterward. Her review will be in Q&A form due to her age. She's sitting next to my computer as we do this.)

Chuckie: What did you think about the book, "The Hobbit"?
Molly: I liked the song about where they sang, "Down, down to Goblin Town!"
Chuckie: So you liked the songs in the book?
Molly: Mm-hm.

Chuckie: What about the story?
Molly: You want to know the funny part about the story that I liked?
Chuckie: Sure.
Molly: Bilbo got knocked out two times.

Chuckie: That he did. What else did you like about the story?
Molly: I liked where the goblins sang, "Fifteen birds in five fir trees."

Chuckie: So you really liked the songs.
Molly: Uh-huh. The ones the goblins sang. They sang better songs than the elves did.

Chuckie: But what about the story?
Molly: The dwarves wanted to go to the Lonely Mountain and Bilbo sneaked in to see the dragon and him got scared.

Chuckie: How did Bilbo sneak around so well?
Molly: Because him was a little Hobbit. And I can sneak around you so good because I scrunch down and I'm little too. And he had THE RING! (She says that last bit in a  sing-song voice.)

Chuckie: Where did Bilbo get the ring from?
Molly: Gollum. Him got the ring from Gollum. He found it on the ground and him got it and Gollum wanted it back, but him had a contest and if he losed them him was going to eat Bilbo and even when him losed, him tried to eat Bilbo anyway because him was really naughty. And if I was there, I would have said, "You naughty little skunk, you don't catch Bilbo and eat him. If you even try I'll stab you." Then I'd get Bilbo's sword from him and use it to stop Gollum so him didn't eat my friend Bilbo.

Chuckie: Okay, hold on. Slow down.
Molly: And I'd say, "Gollum, please don't eat Bilbo." But if Bilbo would poke me with him sword, then I'd let Gollum eat him because that's not nice and I thought Bilbo was my friend and you really shouldn't poke your friends with swords and if him is going to do that, then Gollum should eat him and I'd say, "Well, you shouldn't have poked me with your sword then."

Chuckie: Gotcha. Wow. So what were your favorite parts of Bilbo's adventure?
Molly: Hm. Let me think for a minute, Daddy.

Chuckie: Okay.
Molly: Hm. The parts when Bilbo didn't get knocked out.

Chuckie: What did you think about the Dwarves?
Molly: Well, I liked something normal about Bilbo. He got the shiny cup to show the Dwarves and they wanted it. But I know one thing, I didn't like some things because some of them died.

Chuckie: How did they die?
Molly: Well everyone gets together and they fight too many bad guys in the big war. That's what a war is. There's too many people and they bump each other and they fight each other and shoot each other. Thorin died. Thorin Oakenshield. (She sniffles over-dramatically.)

Chuckie: Did the dwarves learn any lessons?
Molly: They should have shared their treasure, but they were greedy and wanted to keep all of the gold for themselves. And there were too many at Bilbo's house and bended his forks. Daddy, did they really bend his forks.

Chuckie: No, it was just a teasing song.
Molly: No. "Crack the plates, bend the forks, that's what Bilbo Baggins hates, so carefully, carefully with the plates." See. Them broke them.

Chuckie: Okay, fine. I guess they broke them then.
Molly: Yeah, that's not nice. Thorin should have said him was sorry before him died.

Chuckie: Who else did you like in the story?
Molly: The wizard, Gandalf. Beorn, because him could turn into a bear.

Chuckie: So, did you like me reading the book to you?
Molly: Yes. Because I liked all the Goblin songs. (Starts singing "Down, Down to Goblin Town" again.)

Chuckie: Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
Molly: No, I liked it all.

Chuckie: Was the book too long for you?
Molly: Yes.

Chuckie: What parts would you leave out?
Molly: The Goblins and Bilbo. Only Dwarves.

Chuckie: So, you'd edit out the goblins and the only the only Hobbit from the book the Hobbit?
Molly: Mm-hm.

Chuckie: And just have Dwarves.
Molly: Yes, Daddy. But only one dwarf.

Chuckie: Just one?
Molly: Bombor.

Chuckie: And what would he do in your story?
Molly: He'd have a gun and shoot one goblin and that would be the end. And Bilbo could be in it, but he could just lay down because him not a much fighter.

Chuckie: That really would abridge the story.
Molly: Yup. Cause I want it shorter because it's too long for little kids. Well, not too long for this little kid, but for other ones.

Chuckie: So, how would you rate the book, Pixie?
Molly: Daddy, call me Bronwyn.

Chuckie: Okay, so, how would you rate the book, Bronwyn?
Molly: Molly Bronwyn Simon.

Chuckie: Fine. How would you rate the book, Molly Bronwyn Simon?
Molly: Miss Molly Bronwyn Simon.

Chuckie: Seriously? Okay, fine. How would you rate the book, Miss Molly Bronwyn Simon?
Molly: Sixty hundred moons.

Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: July 26.

Chuckie: July 26?
Molly: Yup.

Chuckie: Anything else you wanted to say about the book?
Molly: I like Hobbits because they are real small like me.

So that's our review. It really was an undertaking to read this over a course of so many nights, but both me and Molly really enjoyed it. It was a really nice bonding story for us. I think it's above the head and level for a four year old, but Molly was still surprisingly able to follow most of it. I think reading the book will make watching the movie a more exciting experience for her as well.

It's definitely a classic, but I don't think it will do that well from a Peter Jackson touch. It's not an "epic" story in the sense that the Lord of the Rings books were and by making it a two-parter, it's building it up more than it really is: a kids story about maturity of a character and the perils of greed and pride (every overly-proud character dies, from Thorin to Smaug, as a result of their hubris and pride) within a setting of childhood animism. The Rankin/Bass production has a soft-spot in my heart from watching it obsessively as a kid, and despite what it gets wrong in the story, it gets right in the theme.  Still, there were no female characters in the story for Molly to relate to, but I think that she was able to find that everyone's inner-Hobbit is genderless.

Molly really enjoyed the experience as well. She gives it sixty hundred moons out of July 26. She thought it was a little long for most kids her age and would suggest an abridged version that just has Bombur shooting a goblin while Bilbo laid down in the background. But the story has been a major part of mine and Molly's life and routine over the past month. And she's very excited to have furry feet for Halloween as she's decided to go as Bilbo Baggins.

No comments:

Post a Comment