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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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Of course, there are many important differences between the
two works. The Hobbit follows the story through Bilbo's eyes
and tells of events in a chronological sequence. In other words,
you hear about things as they happen, rather than jumping
ahead to future events, or flashing back to something that
happened in the past. When Tolkien departs from this
chronological sequence in The Hobbit, he carefully guides you
through the jump in time: "Now if you wish, like the dwarves,
to hear news of Smaug, you must go back again to the evening
when he smashed the door and flew off in a rage, two days
before."



The story line of The Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, is
much more complicated. The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy,
consisting of three volumes (Parts One to Three) divided into
six sections (Books I through VI). The novel jumps back and
forth in time, following the stories of several characters. The
various story lines finally converge near the end when all the
characters are reunited as Aragorn is crowned king of Gondor.
Tolkien uses these shifts in viewpoint to good effect, often
ending his scenes as cliff-hangers, slowly building the tension
to its climax. But trying to follow the different story lines as he
jumps back and forth from one to the other can be very
difficult. Tolkien doesn't guide you through them as he did in
The Hobbit. But he does give clues to help you put the pieces
in order. For example, when Tolkien returns to Sam and Frodo
in Book VI, he shows you that he's jumping back in time by
telling you what Merry, Pippin, and Aragorn are doing at the
same moment.

Many people have commented that The Hobbit is like a simple
fairy tale, whereas The Lord of the Rings is more like a great
epic poem of the past, such as The Odyssey of Homer or
Beowulf, the famous Old English tale of heroism. Like both
fairy tales and epics, Tolkien's books are stories of heroism in
an imaginary world filled with fantastic people and creatures.
But The Hobbit, like many fairy tales, is first and foremost the
story of an individual's growth into maturity. It has a fairy-tale
ending, with Bilbo smoking happily on his pipe many years
later, rich from his adventures and satisfied with his life. An
epic, on the other hand, tries to relate the hero's story to a long
history and is more concerned with questions of moral choices
and the fate of all men, than with its individual hero. In fact,
many epics, such as Beowulf, end with the death of their
heroes. The Lord of the Rings shares these characteristics of
epics. Unlike Bilbo, Frodo doesn't live happily ever after. He's
been wounded physically and also psychically by the loss of
the Ring. His passage to the Blessed Realm at the end of the
book may be interpreted as a symbolic death.

Part of Tolkien's genius lies in the way he combined the forms
of fairy tale and epic. The heroes of most epics are larger than
life, possessing great strength and ability, like the superheroes
of comic books. But people nowadays find it hard to identify
with such impossible heroes. Frodo, an ordinary person who
has been thrust into a situation beyond his abilities, is a more
suitable hero for a modern audience. Aragorn, on the other
hand, is a classic epic hero. But he has a fairy-tale ending,
winning a kingdom and marrying his lifelong love. So you see,
Tolkien didn't just copy the old forms of fairy tale and epic. He
reworked them to meet the needs of a modern audience. From
the great success of his books, he seems to have achieved his
goal.

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