After our year-long audio experience with the Harry Potter series, the kids and I decided our next journey would be through the world of J.R.R Tolkien (stopping only for audio emergencies, like the upcoming Mockingjay). Personally I was thrilled. I have foggy memories of starting to read The Hobbit in grade school, but probably got distracted by Judy Blume and V.C. Andrews. We have watched the LOTR trilogy movies at least a dozen times (for a little dose of Viggo, yes?), and are excited for the release of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, if MGM and New Line can get their financial troubles sorted out.
So we meet the affable Bilbo Baggins, a happy Hobbit soul who lives peacefully in his Hobbit Hole. Until Gandalf, the great wizard comes to visit him, and invites him to come on an adventure with thirteen dwarfs. You see, long ago, a large amount of gold treasures belonged to the dwarfs' forefathers, but were stolen and kept deep inside a mountain guarded by a fierce dragon named Smaug. They simply mean to get back what is theirs, and they need Bilbo's help as a clever and stealthy thief. Bilbo thinks this sounds like fun, so off they go.
On their adventure, they encounter friends and foes of all kinds...goblins, elves, eagles, a bear-man, wolves, and village men. And of course, Gollum. Let's not forget about him! When Bilbo gets lost in a cave, he stumbles upon this creature, and takes his ring (THE ring) which allows Bilbo to become invisible. With the help of the ring, Bilbo is able to indeed become a clever and stealthy thief, and saves the dwarfs numerous times from ill fate. The adventure reaches it's climax with the defeat of Smaug and a brutal war named The Battle of the Five Armies.
Bilbo remains the center figure throughout the story, and it is pleasurable to watch him mature from a simple Hobbit to one who becomes a brave and shrewd problem-solver. The prose is enchanting, and dear, which is the best word I can find for it. Despite the horrors encountered by these endearing characters, the words still feel sweet and fairy-taleish.
I was surprised by a couple of things, this being my first time "reading" The Hobbit. One was the small role played by Gollum. He is such a huge force in the later movies, that I got the impression that his history could be found in this first installment. Apparently not! He was like the wind - here and gone. Secondly, I had the impression that the ring transformed its owner into a tortured soul, but this did not happen to Bilbo. I'm now intrigued how this piece of metal becomes an instrument of the devil for Frodo later!
A special comment must be made about the narrator, Robert Inglis. After listening to the truly brilliant Jim Dale for a year, our first impression of Inglis was "meh". My daughter was grumbling in the back seat, and I was afraid she would ultimately black-ball the audio (she has been known to do this). My BFF said she abandoned the audio because of his voice. I couldn't put my finger on the exact reason for our discontent. His voice is very stiff and formal, I guess, and very old British with the trilling of his tongue. But he had an incredible range of mimicry, including quite a bit of decent singing. There's nothing wrong with the guy - he comes with respectable cred...acting with the Royal Shakespeare and Royal Court Theatre companies, and even performed The Hobbit on stage by himself. We would not be denied however, and we persisted, and the man began to grow on us. Jim Dale and Simon Vance he is not, but I would recommend vigilance for the sake of the story (and yes, he does narrate the rest of the series).
Now we journey into known territory with The Fellowship of the Ring, and the land of Middle-Earth and Mordor.
Have you read the series? Have you listened to the audios? What did you think?
4 out of 5 stars