For my money, no book better typifies the finer qualities of the fantasy genre than J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Don’t get me wrong, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are both sprawling works of vast complexity that breath life into a world that is realized more completely than almost any other in fiction. For all that, though, they lack the richness and warmth that makes The Hobbit one of the best works of fiction of all time.
Each one of Bilbo’s adventures, from the trio of trolls to Gollum’s riddles to the battle of the Lonely Mountain is realized more effectively than the collective canon of many authors. Where LOTR often loses you in the thousands of years of backstory and lineages that require dutiful study, The Hobbit leaves you to immerse in a rich, verbal stew, the simplicity of which allows you to savor the flavor.
Forgive the food analogy, I must have gone a bit hobbit there for a second.
More than anything though, I think it’s the presence of the narrator, whether one chooses to believe that it is Tolkien or not, that really pushes the book over the edge into greatness. The amusing asides, carefully sprinkled backstory and wry tone of the narrator is the most frequent source of humor and amusement in the book. It is a work of children’s literature, after all, and in reading the book it feels like a kindly old gentleman is recalling the story to you out loud over a campfire. You can almost feel the warmth of his voice.
For that reason, and many others, this is one of my favorite books of all time.