The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien - Critical Essay Sample

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The history of literature knows a lot of great stories, but not many of them can be compared in popularity with the fantasy novel The Hobbit, written by J. R. R. Tolkien back in the 1920s. Considered a piece of children’s literature, this text gained success among both youngsters and adults and nowadays has numerous fan clubs around the world. Despite the fact that this story is almost eighty years old, it still attracts much attention among literary critics, film directors, and ordinary readers, who pass this book from one generation to another and read it to children before sleep. The secret of such extreme popularity of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien is simple simple, yet everlasting idea supported by a skillfully created fantasy world and its characters.

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Who Is the Author of the Hobbit?

To understand Tolkien’s works more profoundly it is important to know his life story. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an English philologist, literary critic, and Professor of English Language and Literature at the Merton College of Oxford, though he is best known as a writer and author of the fantasy novels The Hobbit and the trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was born on 3rd January 1982 and already at the age of four, he could write and read and enjoy the latter greatly, reading as much as possible. After his mother had died he attended King Edwards School, wherein 1903 he won a Foundation Scholarship. Later he was educated in Exeter college in Oxford, where he studied English Language and Literature and graduated with first-class honors in 1915. Before entering Exeter, Tolkien had undertaken the trip to Switzerland, which became the basis for his future writing about Bilbo’s trip (Carpenter, 46).

In 1916 carefree youth of Tolkien finished as he had to join the Armed Forces in World War I, where he took part in one of the greatest battles of the whole war the Battle of the Somme after which he had to return home to serious problems with health. Despite the fact, that Tolkien denied the influence of war on his writings, facing death and destruction changed his personality greatly. In the post-war years, he came back to his academic career, working as a Reader at the University of Leeds and as a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College. Approximately at this time, he wrote The Hobbit and the two first parts of The Lord of the Rings. Afterward, he produced a huge amount of literary works among which was the translation of Beowulf, which greatly influenced his Middle-Earth. In 1945 Tolkien obtained the post of Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College of Oxford, from which he retired in 1959. During his retirement, he lived under huge public attention due to the popularity of his works. J. R. R. Tolkien died in 1973 at the age of 81.

Some more important remarks concerning Tolkien’s views are that was a devoted Catholic, opposed to both communists and national-socialists, at the same time criticizing the political situation in Britain as well. He himself rejected all the connections between his novels and the events in the real world, though many literary critics tried to link them and find allusions to historical characters. Tolkiens attitude towards the famous fantasy texts such as Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol was not highly appreciated, while the works of George McDonald and Andrew Lang had a strong influence on his further writings (Carpenter, 30).

History of the Hobbit Publication

Being written in 1920s fantasy novel The Hobbit was first published in 1937, receiving high critical and readers appraisal. The story tells about a representative of imaginary folk hobbits Bilbo Baggins, who joins the team of dwarves in order to get the gnomes treasure possessed by a dragon called Smaug. The text is written in the third person narrative, at the same time representing the quest narrative, as it contains all the essential elements of it. First of all the story tells about a precious object the dwarves’ gold in general and Arkenstone also called the heart of the Mountain. The preciousness of this stone is explained by the fact that it is the heirloom of Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the group of dwarves. The next important point of the quest is the presence of a heroic seeker, who is called the burglar and represented by Bilbo Baggins, who agrees to undertake a long journey (which is the third feature of the quest) to the Lonely Mountain. On their way, the band faces different tests, which sort out those, who are not fit enough, representing the next characteristic of the quest narrative. To overcome all the problems, the heroes of the quest usually need some supernatural helpers, such as elves, giant eagles, and wizards in The Hobbit. The final step of the journey of the team under the leadership of Thorin is to get the treasure, guarded by a fierce dragon who represents the last important feature of the quest (Auden, 35).

Literary Devices Used in the Hobbit

Being a Professor of English Language, Tolkien had great knowledge of the English lexicon and made his best use of it. The language of The Hobbit is extremely rich in lexis and literary devices. First of all, the text contains many symbolic issues. One of the main symbols of the text is the sword of Bilbo, called Sting. Short, specially forged for him it becomes the symbol of his bravery and ability to fight as he decides to give it a name right after killing a giant spider - I will give you a name, he said to it, and I shall call you Sting. (Tolkien, 181). Another important symbol that is traced throughout the whole text is Bilbo’s house the hobbit hole, which he remembers throughout the whole trip. The journey itself is a symbol as well Bilbo undertakes this trip not only physically, but mentally too.

Personification in the Hobbit

Another important literary device of the novel is the personification of trees, animals, different objects are endowed with human characteristics. E. g. The winds broke the grey clouds, a wandering moon appeared above the hills between the flying rags. While wandering the moon is an example of personification, the flying rags are a metaphor standing for the clouds. There are also many similes in the text, such as "Poor Bilbo couldn't bear it any longer. At may never return he began to feel a shriek coming up inside, and very soon it burst out like a whistle of an engine coming out of a tunnel (Tolkien, 105). As for the mood of the story, mostly it is adventurous for the whole book describes a long trip, which becomes an adventure, while the tome shifts from gloomy one to relatively joyful. The setting of the novels is shifting as well, starting with Hobbiton, then the Mirkwood and finally coming to the Lonely Mountain.

What Is the Theme of the Hobbit?

One of the most important literary devices is the theme. The theme of The Hobbit is the development of the main character Bilbo Baggins. Starting from a usual, even cowardly person that is afraid to leave his comfortable home, he becomes a real hero able to protect himself and his friends and defend his opinion in case it is different from the others. Unexpectedly for himself, Bilbo realizes that he possesses enough strength and courage to pass the whole way and overcome all the difficulties. As the novel is called The Hobbit, it is obvious that this character is supposed to be central in this story, and the development of his personality while undergoing different tests and challenges is the main theme of the text. The second part of the title sounds like The Journey There and Back Again, which suggests that the journey itself plays a very essential role in the text, becoming a sub-topic.

Critic Reviews for the Hobbit

The first and the main question The Hobbit provokes the critics to ask is whether it is a children’s or adults’ story. The views upon this issue may be divided into two groups those who consider it written for children only and those who see it as a book for all age groups. The first group is represented by such critics as Roger Sale, Paul Kocher, and Peter Hunt. The latter underlines the similarities between The Hobbit and The Wind in the Willows in the introduction to the book J. R. R. Tolkien (Hunt, 6). Roger Sale agrees with him, stating:

For most of its length The Hobbit is the sort of book The Wind in the Willows and the Pooh books are other examples that appeal to a particular sort of reader, be he child or adult, whose sense of wit is near his sense of fun and whose willingness to pretend is akin his ability to remember (Sale, 249).

Paul Kocher makes an attempt to understand the age of the most probable readers of The Hobbit supposing that the readers are young enough not to resent the genial fatherliness of the I-You technique, the encapsulated expositions, sound effects, and the rest, yet be old enough to be able to cope with the fairly stiff vocabulary (Kocher, 25). Dorothy Matthews does not consider The Hobbit a children’s book only, but she compares Bilbo, as he was at the beginning of the novel, to Peter Rabbit, the character of Winnie the Pooh and Water Rat and Mole from the text Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. The comparison is based on the fact, that all of them highly valued home and comfort for Bilbo found the sound of a kettle singing out to announce the hour for tea the most heartening in the world (Matthews, 28).

Among the critics, who supported the idea of The Hobbit being the text for all age groups were such scholars as Brian Rosebury and William H. Green. Rosebury agrees with the fact that the novel is predominantly juvenile, but argues that it is not for children on the whole (112-113), while Green states it is a juvenile masterpiece that hides like a Trojan horse, an adult story (9). It is important to mention that The Hobbit received a very high evaluation of Tolkien’s friend and colleague C. S. Lewis. He noted that It is so exactly what we would both have longed to write (or read) in 1916: so that one feels he is not making it up by merely describing the same world into which all three of us have the entry. He acknowledged that the novel was not simply a children’s book, as many considered it, but an unforgettable saga with many illustrations, names, maps, and heroes such as dwarves, which are not typical for children’s literature (Sammons, p. 6). Anyway, Tolkien himself said that he did not write The Hobbit specifically for children or for his own children’s private enjoyment (Sammons 6).

Many critics agree that the idea of the character undertaking a quest was chosen by Tolkien deliberately to show the inner growth of Bilbo. Thus, Dorothy Matthews states the central pattern of The Hobbit is, quite obviously, the quest (28). Matthews has made very interesting research of The Hobbit using psychological perspective. Remembering the ideas of Freud and Jung concerning the way the unconscious expresses itself, the critic states that like many other folklore characters, Bilbo is supposed to pass his way mostly alone, as the protagonist of so many of these tales encounters his greatest obstacles alone, as a dreamer (28). Continuing this thought, Matthew reminds of the idea of monomyth, proposed by Jung. According to Jung, all folklore stories and tales are the variations of one universal story, expressing the in metaphor a psychic experience shared by all mankind (29). Therefore, all the obstacles, the main characters of folklore face (together with Bilbo as a part of tales heritage) serve as a process of initiation, an inseparable element of the monomyth.


Coming back to the quest narrative of The Hobbit, Matthews argues that in the case of Bilbo it is a quest for psychic wholeness or, as Jung called it, the individuation process (30). Such a process is more typical for young characters, while Bilbo is not a youngster, but at the same time psychologically he is very far from being mature. This is why the arrival of Gandalf, who is seen by Matthews as a projection of the archetype of the Wise Old Man, proposed by Jung, disturb...

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