The Annotated Hobbit Or There and Back Again – Book Review

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Finished reading:

The Annotated Hobbit Or There and Back Again

by J.R.R. Tolkien

★★★★

Expectation

I picked this book up as a part of a reading challenge – I still have to read Lord of the rings trilogy (only the first book is mandatory). Since my reading appetites are great and my general reading lately has been somewhat scarce, I was inspired to make my start with Hobbit. To make matters more difficult ( this is where my truly masochistic nature rears its ugly head) I went and got on board of the annotated version. I tried reading Hobbit once when I was nine but something about it just put me off. Maybe it was a really old copy from the library with no illustrations or something about the writing style but the book just did not sit with me and I returned it after skimming trough first few pages. This time nothing could stop me to read it trough.

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Summary

Before I can even start on the book summary I have to explain the difference of this version from the normal editions of Hobbit. So basically, The Annotated Hobbit is richly composed book filled with many interesting details on various editions of Hobbit through the years. It contains the whole and same text as normal editions of Hobbit with a whole lot of extra footnotes, illustrations and information. From the first edition published in 1937. there were many subtle differences concerning linguistic phrasing, not just in different translated editions but in various english versions as well.

As a whole this edition has twice as much pages as the normal version of Hobbit. I rather enjoyed the first parts of the book that were about the author, his life and how the whole fantastic legacy came to be. I must add that this is my first book by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

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What delighted me the most trough the book were various illustrations from different translations and editions. It was great to read about authors reactions to some of them too. More than once I marveled at the artistic differences and representations of illustrations in different translated editions and trough the ages. I think it is amazing that Tolkien made his own illustrations for the book. It was curious to think that some of his illustrations were cut and augmented to accommodate printing techniques of the time. More than once I had to stop and think about move versions of his works and wonder what would Tolkien think about them. Would he approve of Martin Freeman as Bilbo? Would he be amazed at the CGI and special effects that were put to work to make his story come to life? Would he find himself humbled by the expensive franchise and lengths Peter Jackson went to make the movies spectacular and wonder to behold?

All these and many more questions came to mind especially since he regarded his writing as more of a hobby than a true calling.

the-hobbit-first-edition-dust-jacket-book-coverOriginal dust jacket from the first edition illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien

As you can see there are many things that make this book special. This story is a work of an Oxford professor who wanted to make a great story for his children. I kinda imagined him as a passionate professor and scholar.

As much I was interested in all the fascinating information from notes and footnotes, after a while I got tired with some of them.There were lots of really interesting data to learn but keeping track of linguistic changes trough the different editions was sometimes tiresome. Any hardcore fan would have jumped for joy, English mayor or any professional linguist would have loved it. Sadly I am none of these things.

annotated-hobbit-inside

At some point the many notes and explanations pulled my attention from the story and I got lost and couldn’t really get into it at times. The constant flipping of the pages back and forth – I even had to use two bookmarks for keeping track, has made my concentration slip and the whole reading process lass enjoyable than it would normally would have been. The reason this review keeps getting back to notes and extras is probably because there were so many of them. There were many theories and mentions of authors scholar work as an inspiration for certain scenes and parts of the book, sometimes the whole original songs were involved. I guess this is what happens when a book offers a fantastic imagined world, new races and cultural riches, fantastical beasts and heroic deeds.

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Story is mostly known to many, if not from the book then surely from the movies. Movies are kinda fluffed up for today’s audiences. I like knowing where Gandalf went after he left Bilbo with dwarves – otherwise I would probably rant about his role. And the romance between a dwarf and an imagined elf were not part of the book but it made the movies a bit more dramatic. Reading this book inspired me to marathon binge watching the whole series and I kinda have trouble not mixing the two mediums and two versions of the same story.

Conclusion

I do not recommend this version for somebody’s first reading of Hobbit. The sheer number of footnotes and explanations might make the reading experience and story long and redundant. For a hardcore fan it is probably a must read at some point in their lives. As a part of a general knowledge it is always good to learn from the source – in this case the original book. Future readers must keep in mind that this is a book written for children in the first half of twentieth century. The timing when it was published is right at the start of WW2 and accordingly the book is filled with positive influence and hope.

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