When I first read the book, I loved it, even though it was technically a children's book and I was at an age when I was trying very hard to be an adult. It was a good story and had a character I could care about. What was there not to love? I wondered if I would feel the same all these many years later.
I wanted to remind myself of the story in advance of seeing the film. I admit I'm feeling a lot of reservations about this film and Jackson's handling of it. After all, he's stretching out what is essentially a rather short novel with not a lot of action into three movies, which I feel sure will have an abundance of action.
I know, I know, he's using material from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings trilogy which fleshes out the story and gives it context and a history. Still, The Hobbit is a special story all on its own. I would hate to see it changed and stretched beyond recognition for the sake of creating blockbuster movies. It really is a pretty gentle story about a gentle soul, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, who wanted nothing more than to sit by his own fireplace and enjoy a pint of ale and a smoke with his friends. He was pushed out of that existence at the behest of a wizard and had many wonderful and terrible adventures before finally finding his way back home again with a secret treasure in his pocket. It's a story where the scariest things happen in the background, never directly to Bilbo. It's a story that would not give a child nightmares. One wonders how it will be altered for dramatic effect on the screen.
But, back to the book.
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."It was a very fancy hole, a super-deluxe hole that had long been the abode of the Bagginses. Bilbo lived there alone very comfortably. He had no wife and children. Of course, he had lots of nieces and nephews, one of whom we would get to know very well indeed in The Lord of the Rings. (Correction: I was referring to Frodo, of course, but actually he was Bilbo's cousin, not his nephew. I misremembered.) He had a quiet life, enjoying the company of his friends, and he never had any adventures.
Then one day, the wizard Gandalf shows up at his door and engages him in conversation. When Bilbo goes back inside his hobbit hole, Gandalf marks a secret sign on his door. Later a party of dwarves shows up and invite themselves inside - thirteen in number. Bilbo is alarmed but tries to be a good host.
Finally, Gandalf returns and the plot begins to thicken. It seems that the thirteen dwarves are going to the Lonely Mountain to try to reclaim it and their lost treasure from a terrible dragon named Smaug. Since thirteen is an unlucky number, Gandalf has drafted Bilbo (unbeknownst to him) to travel with the dwarves and become the fourteenth member of their expedition.
The good-natured Bilbo is appalled. He wants no adventures but he is prevailed upon to accompany them with a promise of a one-fourteenth share of the recovered treasure. And so they set out. At first Gandalf travels with them but he leaves them before they enter the dark forest of Mirkwood.
The most famous scene, of course, is the meeting of Bilbo and Gollum, when Bilbo becomes separated from his companions in a tunnel where he finds a ring and slips it into his pocket. He becomes lost and encounters Gollum whom he asks to show him the way out. Gollum proposes a game of riddles. If he stumps Bilbo, Gollum can eat him. If Bilbo stumps him, Gollum must show him the way out. They go back and forth with riddles until, finally, Bilbo cannot think of another one and in desperation he yells, "What have I got in my pocket?" And the rest, as they say, is history. Well, Middle Earth history anyway.
It didn't take me many pages to find that I am still captivated by this story, not unlike I would be by The Velveteen Rabbit or Alice in Wonderland or any number of another favorite children's classics that I used to read to my children when they were little. Unfortunately, I no longer have any children in my life to read to because my offspring have been significantly negligent about providing me with grandchildren. So, I have to invent whatever excuse I can - an upcoming movie, e.g. - for reading the book for myself.
Incidentally, I may have reservations about the movie, though I'm trying to keep an open mind, but I think Martin Freeman was an inspired choice to play Bilbo. His persona seems perfect for the part. We'll find out for sure next week.