In the third grade my understanding of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien boiled down to a shoebox diorama of Smaug the dragon sitting on his pile of treasure. At nine years old, I had no idea of the enduring success of this epic tale and the trilogy it spawned. Back then I was busy imagining a courageous hobbit, a bunch of dwarves and a greedy dragon. Now that I’m older with more knowledge of the book and its history, I’ve come to realize that it’s amazing to consider the profound importance of this book on the fantasy genre and on literature.
September 21, 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of the first publication of The Hobbit. The book had a press run of 1,500 copies in 1937; today, the book has sold over 100 million copies in more than 50 languages worldwide. Furthermore, the first installation of a film adaptation trilogy will hit movies theatres on December 14, 2012. The Hobbit has also spawned many critical works, from chapter-by-chapter analyses, to exploration of the map of Middle-earth, to philosophical interpretations and discussions. The Hobbit is a rich text that warrants a great deal of intellectual investigation, for it has also shaped our reception of the fantasy genre today.
The fantasy landscape Tolkien conjures in his works has become the model for much of contemporary fantasy fiction, including media such as role-playing games (RPGs), television, movies and video games. Our visions of creatures such as elves, dwarves, trolls, goblins and dragons–not to mention hobbits and orcs–are due to Tolkien. The landscape of Middle-earth is reimagined countless times in modern fantasy, and other fantasy epics popular today may never have fully achieved success without the paving force of The Hobbit.
Beyond that, the academic merit and commercial success of the franchise is because it’s just a good book–one that my third grade self was enthralled with but any adult will find just as enthralling. The Hobbit is rooted deeply in myth, lore and legend, and it’s filled with riddles and songs. It’s a story about good and evil and overcoming the odds, as Bilbo is truly just “a little fellow in a wide world.” Above all, The Hobbit urges us to find courage within ourselves. And that’s the message that resonates with us still, 75 years later.
“Tolkien’s ‘Hobbit’ Celebrates 75th Anniversary,” USA Today, accessed October 31, 2012, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/story/2012/09/20/tolkiens-hobbit-celebrates-75th-anniversary/57809718/1.
“The Hobbit: What Has Made the Book Such an Enduring Success?” The Telegraph, accessed October 31, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9555838/The-Hobbit-What-has-made-the-book-such-an-enduring-success.html