My favorite book, like so many of us who are avid readers, has changed over time. When I was younger, I would say any one of the Hardy Boys novels could be my favorite, or A Wrinkle in Time. That one was the first book I read with my mom. My dad then turned me onto The Wizard of Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guinn and, for a long while, that would have been my favorite. I finally read The Hobbit in sixth grade and JRR Tolkien’s classic quickly became my favorite; until, of course, I read The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read most of the books in the Forgotten Realms universe as well as most of the Harry Potter books. I am somewhat irritatedly awaiting the next book in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire—Winds of Winter—as I am all caught up with his quickly-becoming-classic series. I read Brent Weeks Night Angel Trilogy and was a fan for the most part. I love Stephen Lawhead’s work. His first series I read was the King Raven series, a historical fiction/fantasy series about Robin Hood. Very cool. I have also either read or listened to many of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels and Robert Ludlum’s books, listened to many of the early Star Wars novels (now mostly not accepted as a part of the Star Wars Universe), and have had an opportunity, through publishing my own book, to read other newer author’s works. After reading all these books—well, I should say reading and listening to all these books—my favorite of all time…man, that’s a hard thing to decide. But my favorite of all time has to be J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
There are four reasons why The Hobbit has stood up against all these other great masterpieces, four reasons as to why The Hobbit stands out to me as one of the best, most influential, and most prolific novels of all time.
1. The Hobbit started a whole genre and influenced thousands of books. Certainly, fantasy fiction has seen some amazing authors after J.R.R. Tolkien. And within just a few generations, we have seen the creations of sub-genres like Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, etc. and amazing authors like Jordan, Sanderson, Martin, and Salvatore. These genres were created by men and women who were just as innovative as Tolkien, but in my opinion, it is Tolkien who gave them the start, gave them the platform with which to create their masterpieces. Every fantasy book that I read has some relationship to Tolkien and The Hobbit. Some of these similarities are very clear—and sometimes a little too similar—and some of these similarities are obscure, but I believe if you were to sit down and read every fantasy novel written, you could draw lines of influence to The Hobbit. This is why The Hobbit is the best. Every time I read a fantasy novel, or even an adventure novel, science fiction novel, or mystery novel, a part of me always thinks about The Hobbit.
2. Tolkien crossed genre boundaries with The Hobbit. I remember going through college and my Creative Writing program. Almost every single person, when they found out you liked any sort of genre fiction, looked at you like you were some second class citizen. I blame most of this on academia. Schools and universities are teaching young men and women in droves a lot of things and theories that are bogus and weird and just simply contrary to what we experience in the world outside of education, but one of those things that is closely related to us authors, writers, and readers, is that the only legitimate fiction genre is mainstream literary fiction, the kind of stuff you might find in the main aisle at Barnes and Noble, in the New Yorker, or in a coffee shop being discussed by espresso sipping, early twenties intellectuals who smoke e-cigarettes and have discovered the meaning of life even though they’ve never paid for a single bill or have had a single, meaningful responsibility other than school. Besides the fact that most schools teach their students that genre fiction is lesser, worse, poorly written, and meaningless, it is hard for someone who is into a particular genre to appreciate another genre. In my experience, that happens when an author crosses genre boundaries—and Tolkien did that. I have met people who love romance, mystery, adventure, sci-fi, literary, poetry, and non-fiction who have all at least appreciated The Hobbit. Whether its Tolkien’s world building skills, or his prose, or his level of description, or his ability to create analogy, or even his insane aptitude at creating not one, not two, but multiple imaginary languages—all based off of a dead language in Old English—readers appreciate Tolkien’s writing. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have issues with some of Tolkien’s story, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I can’t stand The Simarillion. But issues or not, and genre or not, most people appreciate what Tolkien did in crossing the genre boundaries with The Hobbit. There’s mystery, adventure, political intrigue, racial tension, a resistance to political and social norms, poetry, horror, and any number of other genres all wrapped into this singular fantasy novel that sparked a legacy of writing.
3. It’s a great piece of writing with great prose and great imagery and fantastic description. Tolkien is a good writer. I’m sure there are people out there who don’t like Tolkien or his work, but I think it would be hard to dispute that he is a good writer. Even at a young age, I like picking up a popcorn fantasy novel and slamming through a decently (maybe just ok) written book in a few days—maybe a week—and getting some good adventure, good fight scenes, and a satisfactory story. If nothing else, they always gave me great ideas for D&D adventures. But there is something to be said about great writing, in any genre, but especially fantasy. When you feel like you are living the adventure, man, what a great feeling. That’s what Tolkien does with The Hobbit. It’s not just some campy, corny fantasy novel that takes a few days to read and then you put it down to never read it again. This is a book that takes time. You find yourself rereading passages. Not because they were hard to understand, but because you know there is deeper meaning there. You know that it takes a few times to truly understand what Tolkien was saying. What was he alluding to? What is he foreshadowing? Or you come to this paragraph or two of excellent prose and you read it three times just because it is enjoyable to do so. His attention to detail—and I know some complain about it—gives me the ability to smell the smells, see the sights, hear the sounds, feel the tangibles and wonder the intangibles. Certainly, people have done the same thing, and maybe even people have done a better job, but picking up from reasons 1 and 2, and transitioning into reason 4, Tolkien was one of the first to do it with a genre that many cannot do it with, and in such a way that most who wouldn’t dare pick up a fantasy novel will pick up his.
4. The Hobbit was one of the first, full length novels I ever read that was written for adults. I was only eleven or twelve when I first read The Hobbit. And although I have read it four or five times—I know some people don’t have enough toes and fingers to count how many times they’ve read The Hobbit—I always go back to the fact that it was my first. Not to get really weird here, but I think it’s kind of like our first love, that first person we ever, truly fell in love with. We may not actually love them anymore—I know I am deeply in love with my wife, Kellie, and wouldn’t trade her or our family for anything—but they will always have a special place in your heart. I think, in a way, that is what The Hobbit is for me. I grew up playing fantasy games (D&D), and watching anime, and watching fantasy and science fiction movies and cartoons, but when I picked up The Hobbit for the first time, it all came together for me. I could see every character I had ever read or watched come to life on the pages of that book. I can still remember looking at the cover—it was yellow and it had a picture of Bilbo sneaking into Smaug’s layer—at my desk. We had just come back from the library and I had been bugging our librarian about the book. She said they didn’t have it, that it was a little too high level, but that she would special order for me. And she did. I get goose pimples just sitting here and writing about it. That was it. That was the story that made my love for fantasy and sci-fi real. It was amazing. I could see Hobbiton, and the dragon Smaug, and the dwarves, and Gandalf. I had seen them before. I had imagined them. And here they were. Again, as I get older, I find little issues with the novel—character issues, questions I never asked as a kid, plot flaws—but I will always go back to that moment, when I opened that book, and my love for fantasy came to life. After that, I watched The Hobbit cartoon, read The Hobbit comic book, and began reading other fantasy novels. And, man, when the movies came out, I seriously might have shed a few tears. I think, then, it also truly sparked my imagination. Believe me, I had a vivid imagination before that. But just reading what Tolkien wrote, and I really think understanding how revolutionary it was at the time, I really wanted to convey a story, a message, a picture inside my head to other people. I really do think that that was one of those moments when I knew I wanted to write. Of course, my parents, my Uncle Bob, my grandmother, all these people and more, encouraged me and my creativity, but I don’t know if I would have ever come to the conclusion that I want to write, come to the conclusion of, “Hey, I could do this too,” if I had never picked up my favorite book, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
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