Friday, February 10, 2012

Douglas A. Andersen - The Annotated Hobbit

*The following information refers only to the first edition.*
  Author: Douglas A. Andersen
Title: The Annotated Hobbit
Published: 1988
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Genre: Fantasy
Why I picked it up: The Hobbit is one of my favourite books; working my way through different editions
Rating: The Hobbit - 5 stars, annotations - 3.5 stars
Challenges: TBR Double Dare
Buy: IndieBound Chapters | Check your local bookstore! [Links to the second edition]

I had the updated, totally redesigned second edition on hold at the library but I so badly wanted to read this book that I took it out from my university's library and did not realize until after I finished reading it that it was an older edition and that the second one is a much better resource. I didn't really stop to think before I devoured the original edition - it was published in 1988 and much more information on The Hobbit has surfaced since then, leading to fuller, more informed annotations (as well as the inclusion of Gandalf's account of how he came to organize the quest, colour illustrations/sketches by Tolkien and others, etc.). I did pick up the second edition just a day after I finished the first edition. I've given it a quick browse and I think the second edition is greatly improved over the first: I would highly recommend the second edition, 4.5 stars. I plan on purchasing a copy for myself and reading it the next time I have a craving for The Hobbit. However, as I have only properly read through the first edition, that is the edition my review will focus on. This post can be roughly broken down in to two parts: 1) my thoughts on the annotations, and 2) my thoughts on The Hobbit story, reading experiences, how it might translate to movie, etc.

The annotations in the first edition were somewhat illuminating, though not as much as I had hoped them to be. The notes I liked best were not the ones to do with outside history of the story, ideas that may have inspirec Tolkien, etc., but rather the ones that had to do directly with the book - such as an annotation for the third party explaining that all the poems/songs in the book seem to have been written as the manuscript developed. I did enjoy reading about the origins (at least for Tolkien) of the riddles. I liked the annotation that had a quote from Tolkien explaining that he put spiders in Mirkwood chiefly because his son did not like them. This served as a great reminder that first and foremost The Hobbit was a tale told from father to sons. It makes me wonder what other children's tales such as The Hobbit might Tolkien have thought up had Middle-earth not consumed his time (I am forever grateful that it did [take most of his time] but you have to wonder about these things...). Probably my favourite annotation, however, is one that isn't wholly related to The Hobbit - a few of the annotations referenced recordings that were made of Tolkien reading The Hobbit and parts of The Lord of the Rings, which I had not heard of before. I am fascinated by the idea of authors reading their own works and I was very pleased to find my library has a CD of the recordings. I have it on request at the moment.

I don't think I could write a proper review of The Hobbit story itself. It is the book I have read the most. I first read it when I was 12, and I remember that as soon as I finished it, I started reading it again. I've never been able to do that with any other book. Each reread of The Hobbit feels like I'm reading it for the first time. I suppose that's why so many consider it a timeless children's classic - it truly never gets old!

The story never really felt like a children's book...the boy who said it would be a good story for five to nine year olds? That seemed unrealistic to me, even when I was 12. I was an advanced reader and even then some aspects of the story went over my head. I wasn't used to that type of story, and I also recognized that The Hobbit was a small part of something much greater. The casual, one time only references to names and places and events really through me. So, seeing the illustrations from various version of The Hobbit included in this edition forced me to remember that it is a children's story, meant for children. It's meant to be a good enjoyable tale, nothing too intense. The illustrations were just so blatantly...childish, I could hardly believe that they were considered appropriate representations of the story. But that's because I hold such a larger vision of Middle-Earth in my mind, one influenced by the visual imagery of Peter Jackson's films. Even so, The Hobbit still feels to me a very different story from The Lord of the Rings (as it is, duh). Now that The Hobbit film is finally becoming a reality, I thought more about how scenes would translate from the novel to the film. There are a lot of very intense battle scenes and creepy scenes and other such scenes that I think would feel far more 'grown-up', 'mature', 'adult' (can't think of the right word...) on screen than they did in the book. I am unbelievably excited to see the movie, mind. I adore Martin Freeman, he will make a fantastic Bilbo, and I am extremely comfortable with Jackson's view of Middle-earth and to see the tale come to life, gah, I can't wait. I've never been this excited for a movie before, it's like Harry Potter was to some people I suppose ;P.

Even though I connect The Hobbit to a vast and ranging epic mythology in my mind, I think it's one of my favourite books because I can still recognize it as an independent story on its own. It is a great tale with lots of adventure and interesting characters. Most importantly, the reason I can read it over so many times is that it doesn't have any of the bittersweet sorrow that comes with virtually every other Tolkien tale. I don't like watching The Fellowship of the Ring because it makes me sad to see how happy and peaceful the hobbits were and I don't like watching The Return of the King because it makes me sad to see the elves leaving and Frodo leaving and the world being forever changed - this sounds silly and makes me sound like someone who just wants a happy little story (I don't, I love a good tragic tale more than anything), but the feeling that always gets to me the most (the feeling that makes me cry so much at Doctor Who!) is the sense of things being left behind, being lost. That is the worst emotion for me to experience and when I feel it even just a little bit, it is so, so intense. The Lord of the Rings invokes that feeling often for me; The Hobbit has none of it. It is a relatively safe story for me. It is comforting, it is enjoyable to read, it is a relatively safe and small story set in the world I love without any of that painstaking lost feeling attached to it. Essentially, The Hobbit opens my imagination without breaking my heart.

While I loved rereading The Hobbit (as I always do!), I regret that I wasn't patient enough to wait for the second edition, which will probably be far more illuminating...I will probably update this post when I do read it.

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