Commentary on The Hobbits and Not in the Least Scholarly
Chapter 1 An Unexpected Party
The main character at the beginning of The Hobbit is the Narrator.
The Narrator sits us down in a cozy room, by a warm fire, for a bedtime story.
With a wink, a nudge and an arm around our shoulder, the Narrator gets on with his tale.
The Narrator's tale is about one of us sitting in that warm, cozy room,
dreaming of adventure, as long as real adventure stays in the imagination
and we remain conveniently comfortable at home.
Imagine you were going to write an adventure story, but instead of a
story of the hero-at-large in the Greek tradition, you pick the unlikeliest
of protagonists, a pudgy homebody who is put out by missing his afternoon tea.
Tolkien goes even further, making his protagonist only a half-a-man, a hobbit,
a grown-up the size of a child, without physical prowess, no magical abilities,
without any pronounced intellectually skills, special knowledge, spiritual enlightenment
or any other hardy capabilities that might prove life-saving on a life-threatening adventure.
What kind of adventurer have we here?
This is no Conan who can overpower enemies, no Sherlock Holmes who can outsmart them,
no Merlin laden with magic, nor a medicine man who might call on divine aid.
What can our hero Bilbo Baggins do?
Nothing more than you or I were we to find ourselves in Bilbo's predicaments.
This is the genius of the Narrator, for Bilbo's adventures could be our own.
Without training in arms and without magic spells, perhaps we could
make as good a showing as Bilbo gives of himself.
The story starts kind of slow.
There is a lot of this and that about hobbits and Bagginses and Gandalf with little
action except some "Good Mornings".
Then the pace starts to pick up, with the arrival of the Dwarves.
Interestingly, Tolkien uses the same method of introducing us, the readers,
to the Dwarves as Gandalf uses to introduce the Dwarves to Beorn.
I will not say what that method is here, but you can find the method described
in detail from Bilbo's observations of Gandalf's story telling technique.
The Narrator introduces the hobbit hole, Gandalf and the Dwarves with bright colors
as well as the musical instruments they play.
While flavorful, this does not build character depth.
Most of the Dwarves and especially Thorin suffer from a lack of character development,
in much the same way Boromir is abandoned in The Lord of the Rings.
In particular, Thorin is left unsympathetic.
The Narrator of course is a he, because this is a man's adventure.
There is no lustful motivation, no noble, feminine inspiration,
no heroic rescue of damsel in distress for this tale.