The Hobbit (1937) by J.R.R Tolkien
Appropriateness Rating: Without Reservations
Entertainment Rating: Epic
The Hobbit book is a classic of literature that is enjoyable for children and for adults alike. It is very well known now because of the movies, but the book itself is much simpler and much better than the movies based on it. It tells the story of a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who lives in a culture where comfort is all important and adventure is frowned upon.Bilbo makes the mistake of offending a wizard named Gandalf one day and, to make up for his rudeness, invites Gandalf to tea the next day. This gets Bilbo involved in a big adventure which is exciting to read over and over again.
The story is written in a narrator style that makes it great for reading out loud so if you have children and want to read them a bedtime story this one is excellent. Though it does have a few flaws to be aware of it is a great, clean book that deserves a rating of Without Reservations.
Warnings: symbolic prejudice in portrayals of good and evil
Throughout the book the color White and the geographic West are portrayed as “good” and the color Black and the direction East and South are portrayed as “Evil.” This happens over and over and over again to the point where you would have to be trying hard not to notice it. Now the world in which this story takes place is completely different from our own and it has maps that show this clear difference so the “West” in Middle Earth is not the same as our “West” and so on, but this is still a bit problematic as a description. To be honest while reading aloud to kids I just skip over those words and the text is perfectly fine without them.
Ideas and Morals: reinforcement of class structures, hereditary rule, magical world
In the world of The Hobbit everything has to have a “lordly” version. There are better, more lordly men, there are better, more lordly, elves and there are even lordly swords and trees and eagles and so on. Literally everything has a version that is more lordly than the regular types and this reinforced the message that somehow class divides and hierarchies are natural. This is, of course, contrary to the Islamic belief that all are equal in the sight of God regardless of color, race, class, wealth, or worldly power. Your kids will understand if you simply point this out and explain it to them!
Another related idea is the idea that nobility and goodness are somehow hereditary. One of the heroic characters in the novel is an ordinary man from the village, but it turns out that he is the great-grandson of a noble King which is used in the story to explain his awesomeness and turn him into a leader in his own right. Again, this is a little problematic, but it’s quite subtle and can, again, be discussed with your kids.
Yes, there is magic in this story and some Muslim parents will hesitate to read it to their kids because of this. You should know that while the world that all this takes place in is magical and while there is a main character who is a wizard and does spells the main story and its themes and morals have nothing to do witchcraft and it’s a much much safer, cleaner book for your kids than many other things out there which have nothing to do with magic.
Themes: courage, not underestimating others, generosity, politeness, helping others, fairness in leadership
The Hobbit is full of excellent themes and good messages. Throughout the book Bilbo, the main character, gains courage and learns to trust himself and his skills. He also gives his companions an example of why you should not underestimate others, no matter how small and weak they may seem.
Politeness is widely accepted as very important among all the people in the book. Even when faced with an enemy the characters try to be polite and speak in formal, inoffensive ways.
The final few chapters of the book emphasize generosity and show very clearly that greed is a bad thing that can lead to wars and trouble and make a person less good and less heroic. This is a rare message in today’s popular culture!
Another good message related to the greed and generosity theme is that a good leader should not be greedy or make decisions based on greed. A big contrast is presented between Bard, the hero of the men’s village who cares for the weak and helpless and always helps others and between the greedy leader/mayor who makes all his decisions based on money and gain.
Overall, the Hobbit is one of the best books out there for young and old alike.