When I was around 11 years old, I got a The Lord of The Rings copy from my parents. It was (is, I guess – I still have it and love it) huge, especially on my then tiny (ok, still tiny) hands. 1200 pages long, it included all three books, translated to Portuguese, and a huge picture of Gandalf on the cover, then intact, now rugged with age and flicking.
So is it too strange that I see LOTR as a childhood friend? After being seduced by Harry Potter, I went on to find out that these books, these much more complicated, dense, descriptive stories, caused a whole new level of reading satisfaction on me, and that Frodo Baggins and his companions were multifaceted, complex characters who would teach me more about life than many real adult figures ever managed to.
The reason I love LOTR so much is also the reason why I, ten years later, didn’t expect much of The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien, read on Harper Collins’ paperback, 400 pages). I thought it would be more of the same and, being older, perhaps I wouldn’t be as interested, considering most of my favorite characters weren’t in it – and the fact that I had just read The Great Gatsby, which then became my favorite book. My mistake. I think I might have actually enjoyed this more than LOTR.
The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on his adventure out of the Shire and throughout Middle Earth, joining Gandalf and a group of dwarves as they try to reclaim a treasure of their people from the claws of terrible dragon Smaug. And it is fun. While LOTR is such a serious journey that you feel yourself growing weary with the characters, Bilbo’s story is light, easy, funny at times, a simple, pure adventure – in fact, if I had to pick a word to describe this, I would really pick light. I flicked through pages and found myself having to save some of the book, in one of those moments in which something you read is so, so good that you need to put every word on your mouth, mentally say it twice, close your eyes and smile with joy. Probably the best storytelling skills I have ever found.
Another great part of this book are its characters. Bilbo lives every reader’s dream of running around, breaking barriers and living an adventure no matter what cost. Isn’t that what reading is all about? I do believe we read partially because it feels so good to live what the characters live, to dream higher and higher and still believe in it, to run around and slay dragons and kiss princesses and win the world. People who don’t enjoy reading must never have discovered that reading is actually feeling, and I feel sad for anyone who hasn’t experienced falling in love with characters. Bilbo and the dwarves are the perfect mix of crazy and smart; they are small, but they conquer it all. Gandalf is wise, but lets everyone make their mistakes and learn from them. Smaug is a dragon with more personality than a lot of people I know. All secondary characters are so perfectly created – and described – you keep wishing for spin-offs for every single one of them.
Every song Tolkien wrote, every new species he created, every short, fast-paced adventure that keeps you holding your breath is nothing but the expression of a master on the arts of heart touching and story telling. Whatever you do, whoever you are, I promise you’d finish this book with a smile on your face and the feeling of a whole journey lived. Bilbo is the ultimate improbable hero, who, by leaving his tiny little house on his tiny little feet, showed the entire world that, with wit and heart, anything is possible.
(This review is dedicated to my friend Raphael, who I hope will always keep one foot on the Shire and one running after Smaug)