I can’t remember how long it’s been since I read The Hobbit — one of those books where I feel comfortable in my assumption that I remember everything about the story, and am wrong.
First of all, whenever I read Tolkien I am brought up short by the contrast between his work and countless imitators. How many people writing a genre story today would have the dragon killed by some random guy who isn’t even introduced until almost the end of the story? Bilbo is hired as a thief, and he’s braver than he thinks, and he gets a little more into that role with every adventure, right up to the Arkenstone, but there is never any glory to be had in it.
Second, there was that post that went around a while ago about someone reading the story aloud to their child who made Bilbo a female character. Well done with your life choices, whoever you were, because honestly my dude, the overwhelmingly monosexual landscape comes across as intensely weird. I can’t even imagine writing anything with this many characters in it and just… never even thinking about this, apparently.
Thirdly — this is such a modest story. I found out that I had forgotten so much of it — Bilbo taunting the spiders, most of the Beorn stuff, the Laketown shenanigans — but more than anything else the tone struck me as surprising. It’s just a fun little story, not Timeless Literature incubating. It doesn’t take itself particularly seriously. The narrator’s voice is one of your older relatives. It’s a story for which I have very warm feelings, partly because it doesn’t put on airs.
Now as autumn is finally here, I’ll be rereading The Lord of the Rings. This is something I do every few years, usually in the darker half of the year.