This last weekend I binge watched the Hobbit. All 9 hours of it. I was going to watch the Lord of the Rings the following day but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I thought I would do some reflecting on the story and its strengths as well as its weaknesses.
Yes, I’m going to be that person right now and critique a fantastic work of art. It is actually something I began doing many years ago as I took story telling serious for the first time and worked on becoming a much better writer.
I prefer the story of the Hobbit more than Lord of the Rings. Part of this is personal preference as I could just as easily make the case that LotR is the better story. But let me start with The Hobbit.
The Hobbit is one of my favorite stories. I found an illustrated copy of the book and I cherish it. Tolkien’s brilliance in this story, as in the subsequent adventures, is that he takes the creature of a Hobbit, which is supposed to be a very comfort loving, generous, polite and yet, not necessarily brave being, and he turns him into a hero. Perhaps it was his experience with world wars in which very common men were pressed to service and many acted quite heroically, but regardless the character of the Hobbit allows everyone to imagine that they too could be a hero.
Besides the ability to connect with the main character, Bilbo Baggins, who was practically dragged into the adventure to start, the hobbit represents wonderful characteristics like loyalty and what it means to be a good friend. He accompanies the dwarves who are the yin to his yang; unrefined, rude, yet courageous and even reckless. They are a wonderful fit and they draw from one another well throughout the adventure.
One cannot ignore how well Tolkien keeps the story pushing forward with wonderful action. Orcs, goblins, giants, trolls and of course a dragon keep the tension high throughout. It is practically one perilous encounter after another all the way to the end. I absolutely love it.
The Lord of the Rings is another masterpiece and likely the greater story overall when looked at critically. Why? Well because of the varied and deep characters. Each represents something a little different and so there is really no redundancy when considering our main characters. Perhaps Merry and Pippin were a little redundant but the pair of them act a bit like one so it works well.
The characters are so fantastic it is difficult to pick a favorite one. The dynamic between the dwarf and the elf is amazing, two traditional rivals. Gandalf the wizard is even better in this work than the first. Even the secondary characters are wonderful.
The hobbits steal the show however and the dynamic between Frodo and Samwise is simply amazing. It’s a wonderful good vs evil story in which the themes revolving around friendship are probably the strongest. Once again there is amazing hope found in some of the humblest characters which should give all of us inspiration to strive towards courage and honor.
I could complain about how some of the names are a bit too similar or how Tolkien gets a little lost describing the forests and setting, but really those are just petty things to focus on.
There is really only one plot problem in my mind. It’s the damn eagles. For me, the eagles create an issue because they tend to save the story when Tolkien has written it into a corner that isn’t easy to escape. They appear multiple times and always when it seems like all will be lost but if they are easy enough to call upon, then why wouldn’t you merely call them immediately to resolve the problem before it escalates to that point?
In The Hobbit it would have been much easier to simply ride them all the way to the mountain, bypassing many treacherous encounters and saving a ton of time.
In The Lord of the Rings it would have been a much better plan if Gandalf had immediately called upon them to carry Frodo directly to the mountain and drop the ring in, rather than saving him once he finally got there. If they always manage to arrive when they are desperately needed, then they should have been available before they even got to that point. It’s suspicious.
Look, I’m not saying I’m better than Tolkien. I’m not. And I’m not saying the works aren’t brilliant. They are. However, the eagles are problematic and seem like some lazy writing in the end. They represent my only real criticism of the books.
Obviously the books are iconic and gave rise to a whole popular genre of literature. I value them greatly and all fantasy writers owe Tolkien a tremendous homage to him as his work.