“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
So starts one of Western literature’s most epic journeys, The Hobbit, a fantasy novel that has delighted adults and children alike since it was published in 1937 by professor J.R.R. Tolkien. Ostensibly, The Hobbit is an adventurous tale about hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who leaves the cozy comforts of his home to try to win a share of a treasure, guarded by a dragon named Smaug. The novel follows Bilbo and an assorted cast of magical characters and creatures, including dwarves, the wizard Gandolf, giants, goblins, and the mysterious Gollum. Tolkien brings so many different characters to life and keeps the plot moving at a fast enough pace that people of all kinds have been easily engrossed enjoying the novel over the last 75 years.
Of course, there is a never-ending number of fantasy novels, so why has The Hobbit endured so long and remains as popular as ever before? Part of the reason comes from Tolkien’s background as a professor well versed in Anglo-Saxon literature, which made him extremely familiar with old medieval fairy tales. Others have pointed to his experience in World War I as being responsible for the militaristic and heroic motifs found throughout his books. Furthermore, Tolkien manages to make his characters come across as down-to-earth, even in the midst of a fantasy world, and at the heart of the novel is a coming of age story that people on Planet Earth have always identified with.
The popularity of The Hobbit made Tolkien’s publisher and audience want a follow-up involving his Middle Earth and hobbit creations. To say Tolkien eventually outdid himself in response would be a drastic understatement. What followed was the most famous trilogy of the fantasy genre, The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien drew upon his background and spent over a decade fashioning the history of his world and the characters, including some of the old, (Gandalf and Bilbo), and a lot of the new, (Frodo, Aragorn and Sam).