The Riddles of the Hobbit

Friday, October 18, 2013

A review of Adam Roberts' newest book, The Riddles of the Hobbit

As all other good titles, The Riddles of the Hobbit has many meanings.  Adam Roberts, the author of this book, seems to be referencing half a dozen different things.  First, and perhaps most obvious, one can take this title to mean the actual riddles in The Hobbit, those bantered back and forth by Bilbo and Gollum in the chapter "Riddles in the Dark."  Second, this phrase can apply to any question one may have concerning the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, from 'why did Gandalf choose Bilbo to go on an adventure?' to an inquiry as basic as 'what is a hobbit?'  These are just a few of the numerous ways The Riddles of the Hobbit can be interpreted.

In The Riddles of the Hobbit, Adam Roberts explores the fascinating world of riddles: their importance to the Anglo-Saxon culture, the ways they influenced the literary masterpieces of Tolkien, and how we continually encounter them in our everyday lives.  There is something about riddles that is appealing, the natural human curiosity to know the why and the how.  Adam Roberts investigates this appeal in respect to the hold The Hobbit and the Fantasy genre, as a whole, has on our society.

Adam Roberts lays out his ideas in a straightforward, uncomplicated manner, so that one has neither has to be a Tolkien scholar nor an expert at solving riddles to understand and appreciate this book.  His wit and humor, along with his clever use of rhetorical devices, make The Riddles of the Hobbit and enjoyable read, as well as an informative one.  No matter how much you think you know about the works of Tolkien and about Tolkien himself, you will learn from this book; educating is, after all, what Adam Roberts is trying to do.  (And I am not talking about his professorship at the Royal Holloway University in London.)

There is a reason why people love to read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the many other works by J.R.R. Tolkien.  There is a reason why the books of many, many Science Fiction and Fantasy authors are Tolkinien.  The same reason does for why Peter Jackson has adapted these stories to the silver screen (aside from making money).  Perhaps it is because Tolkien is a great author.  That is certainly part of it, but only part.  After reading The Riddles of the Hobbit, I am of the opinion that another part of the answer is that Tolkien accurately portrays the faults and vices of people and yet he shows how even the smallest person (even you or I) can become a true hero who has courage and virtue and acts accordingly.  However, this still does not completely answer why the love of Tolkien is such that his books have been translated in over forty languages.  I, for one, certainly cannot tell you the answer, and I think no one ever will. That is, to use the words of Adam Roberts, 'the riddle that is The Hobbit.'

Be sure to leave a comment if you liked the review! Adam Roberts' book, The Riddles of the Hobbit, comes out November 1st. The book is available for pre-order at this link.

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