The Hobbit

TheHobbit_FirstEditionI know what you’re thinking.  Oh, God, why?! That book is like 60 years old or something.  It’s been reviewed, it’s been analysed, it’s been dissected, bisected, vivisected, and several other kinds of sected!

Yes, but it’s also a classic, and one very well deserving of that label.

First off, it’s a grand adventure.  Little Bilbo Baggins, never left the Shire, is on his way to deal with a dragon!  Exciting, no?

Next, there’s the narrative.  Oh, the narrator is a character in and of itself!  This is a good thing, not a necessary thing in all stories but one that rarely hurts and can often help.  This narrative draws you in, holds your hand, and paints the picture for you in your mind.  Truly, the prose itself is enough that anyone ought to read this book.

It’s a kid’s story.  For no fathomable reason, it’s often placed near the adult fantasy books, but it’s not.  This story is the kind of thing a parent could read as a bedtime story to a little one, and a must have on any older child’s shelves to read themselves.  A fantastic, good ol’ fashioned Quest tale, as well as one of the first paving stones on the road that would become modern fantasy.

The characters, well now.  That’s an interesting look.  By many modern standards of literature, the characters could use work — but I also have a low opinion of many modern literary scholars, so let me tell you what I think.  I think that, as the story is about Bilbo Baggins, there is a cute little bit of frame story that it is by Sir Bilbo Baggins, et al that the important character to develop is — drum roll please — Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End.

The dwarves are, largely, decoration.  Their purposes need not even be two dimensional, let alone three.  There is a bit of hint that our fine Professor Tolkien knew more about them than he showed us or told us, which is as it should be, the author who knows more about the characters than the reader is an author who has a rich, lively setting that isn’t an endless string of plot devices.

As for our Mr Baggins, he’s very well developed, very well established, and you immediately are sucked into his world and his adventure.  You’re riding upon his shoulder and seeing through his eyes as the narrator guides you through.  Anyone, 5 to 500 male, female, hermaphrodite, animal, vegetable, or mineral ought to be able to readily identify with him.

Truly, this is the quintessential fantasy novel — the one that every generation of fantasy writers except a very new crop of them in recent decades, read and adored.  This book deserves to be rated among the great literatures of Britain.  In my opinion it is also the greatest thing the good Professor ever put on paper (not a fan of LotR, but that’s for another day).

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Dragondoom

Dragondoom, by Dennis McKiernan may not be indie, but it tends to be a touch obscure. It was even out of print for a good while.

This is, frankly, one of my all time favourite fantasy novels. I nearly read the copy at my local library to death until I found a copy of my own at a used book store in the late nineties (this was during that unfortunate OOP phase), and have proceeded to reread that till parts of it are protected by tape.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. Mithgar keeps to the tropes of fantasy cleanly enough to be accessible, and easily understood by anyone who has ever heard of an elf, or a dwarf, warriors, and dragons. But imaginative too, there are subtle touches to make the setting his own; Tolkein’s ground work is clearly visible, but he’s built upon it to something definitely unique.

This story, by its tropes is a fantasy. Sword and sorcery, magic, prophesy, myth and legend all come alive. Yet it does defy genre a little, it’s a compelling story of love, friendship, honour, pride, and the consequences of these.

The story is told in back and forth fashion as it follows the quest of the main characters, Elyn of Jord, and Thork of Kachar, to slay a dragon that has besieged both their peoples. It tells the story of Prince Elgo of Jord and his quest fir glory which led to Elyn and Thork setting off in search of a legendary hammer. The switchback timeline is carefully done so not to confuse (chapters start by clearly telling you when the scene takes place), and arranged to maximise suspense and provide the best understanding of the total story.

If you want a great introduction to fantasy, this book is a fine alternative to The Hobbit, and if you already know and love fantasy you should add this book to your collection post haste. Hate fantasy? Give it another try with this fine story.

Where to buy:
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