I think everyone has a memory of The Hobbit, the classic fantasy novel from J.R.R. Tolkien. With all the movies and video games set in that world coming out over the last decade and change, a Hobbit/Tolkien fan has a lot to consume and enjoy—and a lot to complain about, too. I’ve been trying to remember when I first read The Hobbit. My first memory isn’t of the book itself, but the Rankin Bass animated adaptation from the late ’70s. For a lot of people my age, that movie (and it’s sequel, The Return of the King), are treasured memories. I also had, for many years, this vague memory of another animated Lord of the Rings—one most of my friends didn’t remember, and thought I’d made up (or dreamed up). Turns out, that one was made by Ralph Bakshi in a wildly different animated style (combination of cel animation and rotoscoping). It does exist!
My love for fantasy was born in Greek Mythology. I had a paperback copy of Bulfinch's Mythology that still sits, worn and weathered, on my bookshelf today. I even talked my grandmother into buying the Time Life Enchanted World series. The fact that I gravitated to these kinds of books wasn’t lost on my elementary school teachers, who plied me with The Chronicles of Narnia, helping to foster my growing need to read. Which brings me to The Hobbit. Sort of.
I still don’t remember exactly when I first read it. I know that by the fifth grade, I had not only read it, but owned a paperback copy already falling apart because I’d read and reread it so many times. Which leads me to conclude I first read it in the fourth grade, probably after having seen the animated movies. Those movies, like all movies, pale in comparison to the original work, yet stand on their own as cherished memories.
From that point on right up until my 30s, I read The Hobbit and its sequels, The Lord of the Rings series, at least once a year. Like a security blanket or an old stuffed animal, these stories are comforting. I know the characters as well as I know the trinity of sci-fi on TV; Kirk, Spock and McCoy. I know the world. Can quote passages and sing the songs, albeit to the tunes laid out in the animated movies. I even managed to sneak a version of the Nazgûlinto a D&D campaign I ran in high school.
When Peter Jackson’s movies began with The Fellowship of the Ring, I reread all the books in record time. My plan was to compare the movies to the books. Bad plan. All that did was lead to frustration, so I left the books alone, sat back, and just enjoyed what Jackson was trying to do.
And then I didn’t read the books the following year. Or the year after that. Other books seduced me with their brightly colored covers and sexy marketing copy. And another year went by. And another. Before I knew it, the third and last movie in the trilogy of The Hobbit was being released, and I hadn’t picked up any of the books in a very long time. Stunned, I went back to the well looking to quench my thirst.
And I found new, expanded The Hobbit: The Illustrated Edition.
Adapted by Charles Dixon with art from David Wenzel, this book is a lush and fairly faithful adaptation of the Tolkien book. So much so that details were jumping out at me I thought were deviations from the original text, and found myself going to the book to refresh my memory. As an example, I have absolutely no memory of Bilbo telling the Dwarves about Gollum and finding the ring. Yet there it is in both the illustrated version and my paperback (Flies and Spiders, page 165 in my copy).
I’m not going to go through the plot, as most people already know it. But we have Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit, who goes on a grand adventure with Gandalf and a band of Dwarves. Page by page, the art feels like a series of watercolors. The cover art is quite dramatically different from the interior; the first looking epic in scale and tone, the second appearing light, fun and full of color. Even the characterizations on the cover are very different from those inside.
If I have a complaint, it’s the captions. Out of necessity, they are quite dense and can easily bog the reader down, or at least, this reader.
Any Hobbit fan would enjoy this adaptation for its attention to detail and beautiful art. I think it would make a nice addition to their library. I can also see it making an excellent introduction for parents looking for something to read with their children.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.