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Tolkien's Style: The Writing of a "Romance"
Though The Hobbit is now termed a "fantasy novel," it also conforms in many ways to the genre known as romance. In literary terms, a romance is a fictional, almost supernatural, tale of heroic achievements that cannot be logically explained. Usually these achievements are told in episodic form, which is not tightly connected or unified. In fact, the different episodes are usually only linked together by the characters and by a dominant theme. True to the form of romance, The Hobbit is episodic; each adventure is a separate tale, linked only by the presence of Bilbo and the dwarves and the repetition of the ongoing theme of good vs. evil. There is also a lack of logic in the book, for the dwarves at random encounter various, unrelated enemies, such as the trolls, the spiders, the wolves, and the goblins.
Since the theme of a romance usually centers on adventure, a quest is a favorite plot device. During the course of the quest, the protagonist usually leaves a relatively stable world, journeys through a world where danger threatens and horrors exist, and returns in the end to a better world. In The Hobbit, Bilbo and the dwarves move in true romance fashion from one world to another. In Bilbo's case, he leaves his safe home to endure the dangers of Misty Mountains, Mirkwood Forest, and Lonely Mountain. In the end, Bilbo attains heroic status and returns to his home, well content.
Most romances contain an element of wish fulfillment; therefore, happy endings are the norm. Though the protagonists may endure much suffering and undergo many troubles, they eventually fulfill their goals or dreams. True to this characteristic, The Hobbit portrays the many troubles which the dwarves and Bilbo struggle through. Just before and during the final battle, things do look utterly hopeless for them, but in the end the forces of good ultimately triumph, with a happy ending for everyone.
The setting within which a romance takes place also separates it from other forms of writing. Though some romances are set in a geographically known location, many are set in a fictitious world that the author creatively molds out of his or her own imagination. These imaginary worlds may be so well laid out and constructed that they provide an escape from the "real" world. This is true of The Hobbit, wherein Tolkien creates Middle-earth, an imaginary world with its own peoples, history, topography, and culture.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE HOBBIT
Tolkien was a scholar who specialized in the study of medieval English language and literature. As a result, much of his writing, including The Hobbit, is influenced by his interests.
A number of character names, including that of Gandalf and several of the dwarves, are taken from the Prose Edda, a thirteenth-century Icelandic work. Another source for the names in The Hobbit is obsolete English words, such as "the wain" for the big dipper. A wain was a type of open farm cart, and was the word used by early English authors, including Chaucer. Similarly, the word "carrock" is derived from old English "carr," meaning stone, plus "rock."
The name "Beorn" has an interesting background too. It is related to the Old Norse word "bjorn," meaning "brown" or bear," as well as the Old English word "beorn," which means "man" or "hero."
In addition to the language, Tolkien's literary interests also find their way into The Hobbit in many of the myths he reworks and the conventions and codes he utilizes. Like in old legends, such as Beowulf, Tolkien also names swords and weapons.
As in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, there is an almost magical quest and the need for the hero to overcome his own weaknesses. The idea of the stream whose waters bring forgetfulness and sleep is an old one, found in many mythologies, as is the use of riddles and games as a means of testing the hero. The influence of medieval language and literature gives The Hobbit a timelessness, like the myths, that endure forever.