Saturday, December 8, 2012

Book Review: The Annotated Hobbit

With Peter Jackson's movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, due to hit the theaters next weekend, I thought I'd do some homework and re-read the book. 
Normally I don't re-read books, because there's so many other stories I have yet to discover.  Until now, I've only re-read two other tales, which were also in response to upcoming movie buzz:  Starship Troopers and Lord of the Rings (which I count as one story).

In this case, the version I chose to read was Douglas A. Anderson's The Annotated Hobbit, my sister Rox of Spazhouse, gave me years ago.  I first read The Hobbit way-back-when in junior high school and it was my first introduction to high fantasy literature.  While I remembered the basic plot and all the major characters, there were a lot of details I've forgotten.

Like The Hobbit was written for children in the UK back in 1937 (and was published a year later in the US).  While the book is narrated as if it is being read aloud to children, the storyline is certainly one adults of all ages have enjoyed through the years--and continue to do so. 

This annotated version is especially interesting and helpful.  There is a 28-page Introduction, which includes a short bio of J.R.R. Tolkien and a publishing history of the book (which makes up the bulk of the intro), along with some anecdotes on such things as runes and other mythological reference material.

The narrative of The Hobbit itself is sandwiched between Anderson's copius footnotes.  These sidebars contain information ranging from 1-sentence definitions to historical, literary and philological information, which can run for two or more pages. 

At first I was determined to read every footnote, so I could later brag about my scholarly knowledge of Middle Earth lore and Real Earth publishing history.  But alas; I grew weary of having to step out of the story to read the sidebar stuff.  So I limited my note-reading to only those items that interested me--and were a few sentences long.

Despite this, the book itself--in any version--is a hands-down, 5-star classic.  Thirty Eight reviewers on think so too.  However, not everyone is happy with the annotated version.  Seven reviewers found the footnotes too distracting.  But even from this crowd, only two reviewers pegged the book a 3-star rating--and all the less-than 5-star ratings deal with the footnotes, not the story itself.

This is quite an achievement for a tale originally written 75 years ago.  In fact, Marcus S. Crouch, writing in Junior Bookshelf, back in March 1950, had the foresight to say:

 I know of no children's book published in the last twenty-five years of which I could more confidently predict that it will be read into the twenty-first century. 

(The Annotated Hobbit, page 22).

Twelve years into the New Millenium and Mr. Crouch has yet to be proven wrong.

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