Who hasn't heard of The Hobbit? Published in 1937, the book has been continuously popular ever since and is currently being made into a film starring Martin Freeman. The tale of Bilbo Baggins (the Hobbit of the title), and his unexpected involvement in a quest to reclaim the lost treasure of the dwarves from the evil dragon Smaug is generally pretty timeless and awesome. Following the hobbit and his thirteen companion dwarves from Bag End, Underhill, across the Wild, through the perils of Mirkwood and to the Lonely Mountain itself, The Hobbit is both terrifying and comforting, inspiring and relaxing. For those who haven't read it, there are characters you may well recognise from the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy such as Gandalf the wizard, Gollum, and even Bilbo himself.
My first memory of The Hobbit is of my dad reading it to me when I was around four. I didn't really understand what a hobbit was and became convinced the story I was hearing was actually about a worm. I still maintain that as the hobbit lives in a hole and so does a worm, it was a fairly logical conclusion for a four year old brain to reach. Since then I've read it a grand total of five times as far as I can recall. The last before this was around six years ago, though so reading it this time felt a lot like reading a book that you've been recommended by so many people that you already know vaguely what happens before you start. Parts of it, such as the part where the questers run into goblins and Bilbo's encounter with Gollum, I remembered incredibly well, although I was surprised at how close to the beginning of the story they took place, but there were lots of other things I had little to no memory of, and that made it a brilliant, refreshing and nostalgic read.
I'm not sure exactly what it is about Tolkien that makes The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings so incredibly readable. Yes, the characters are good and generally either very likeable or very hateable (and can I just pre-empt a 2012 re-read of Lord of the Rings by saying, Frodo in the books = awesome, Frodo in the films = completely, inexcusably pathetic), which is brilliant, and the plot is action packed and gripping with just the right amount of respite time including roaring fires, song and dance and copious amounts of food, but I think the thing really is that in Middle - Earth Tolkien has created an entirely real and absorbing world, which is recognisable enough for the reader to be able to relate to the experiences that characters are undergoing, but alien enough to be entirely enchanting and fascinating.
Although The Hobbit was originally thought of as a children's book, the publication of The Lord of the Rings changed perception of it, and it became what it remains today: the prelude to arguably the most epic, sprawling quest - based fantasy saga of all time. If I hadn't signed up to read this in December of this year, it would have been perfect for the Telling Tales Challenge next year, but I'm thinking The Lord of the Rings will do for that! I adore reading books like The Hobbit. My thinking it was about a worm didn't hinder my love of it as a child; I loved it then, I love it now, and I will love it in the future, because it is truly amazing.