Though this was a re-read for me, the first go-round was so long ago that I'd forgotten a lot of the book. (Hey, look at that! A whole passel of giant spiders! And Frodo and Sam thought *they* had arachnid problems.) Tolkien, as ever, excels at his world-building: the landscape and its unusual inhabitants feel totally real, and made me look around with new appreciation at rocks, plants, and streams in my own neighborhood, as if they all might harbor magical beings or properties.
I take a star off because, as with The Lord of the Rings, the pacing is kind of screwed up. They kill the dragon too soon (shot by a guy who barely figures in the story up to that point), then *other* battles happen as the kinda-sorta-climax, and then (as with LOTR) the giant Eagles end up saving the day at the last minute rather than our heroes saving themselves. Also, that Necromancer who Gandalf was off fighting, completely off screen--well, that makes sense if you've read LOTR (oh yeah, it's Sauron), but viewing The Hobbit as a novel on its own, that development is a bit perplexing. LOTR has more human (/hobbit/elf/dwarf/etc.) emotional drama to give it greater merit despite the pacing issues, while The Hobbit feels more like it's meant for children--and that's okay in some ways, as it's also a lot less heartbreaking.
Also, what was up with the silly elves? I said to my husband, mid-read, "The elves in this one are weirdly happy. Like, cracking jokes and being goofy. Maybe later on, the whole Ring situation, and the going-west stuff, was making them grumpier...?" But it still doesn't completely make sense. So I'll be curious to see what Peter Jackson does there. I really cannot see Elrond singing tra-la-la rhymes and dancing merrily. Legolas, maybe, if he had a frat-boy phase. Orlando could totally play that.
All that said, Bilbo is a charming protagonist, and there are lots of gems of scenes in this book. Also some actual gems, like the Arkenstone. Hah.
Incidentally, have you seen Peter Jackson's video blog entries about the making of the new films? Huge fun. I need to go back and view the ones I haven't seen yet.
From The Hobbit I moved straight to a long-intended re-read of Les Misérables. I'm now about a third of the way in, and so far I am annoyed with Victor Hugo for these things:
1) Burying a wonderful, amazing novel among a bunch of extraneous chapters about French history, which dissuades people from reading it. Therefore I recommend you read the *abridged* version--or else get the unabridged, but skim when you find yourself wading through Waterloo or the Paris sewers or someone's needless monologue. I want people to love this novel as much as I do, and they won't if they force the unabridged upon themselves.
2) The title. Jeez, Victor, who's going to want to read this? There's misery in these pages, sure, but the story is much more about love and compassion. And it's even funny or sensual in several places.
3) Creating seriously huge dilemmas for his characters, reaching a point of agonizing conflict which *my* novels may never approach. Example: Ex-convict Jean Valjean has disguised his identity and established a new and benevolent life, in which he's about to do a dying woman the favor of rescuing her little daughter from the slavery she's currently trapped in. However, that same week, he hears that the "real" Jean Valjean has supposedly been caught on a petty theft, and, being an ex-con, is going to be put back in prison for life. So. Save the innocent guy by revealing his identity, and thus get recaptured and be unable to help the little girl? Or save the girl and let the innocent man go to prison for life? I mean, seriously. I never manage to plot stuff this awesome. (Spoiler: Valjean manages to do both of the good things. That's why he's a hero.)
4) Being heartbreaking enough to hurt, but beautiful and romantic enough to keep me obsessively reading. I cain't quit you, Les Mis.
There's an upcoming movie for this too, complete with new and fully heart-rending trailer:
Marius fangirl sidenote: though I liked Eddie Redmayne perfectly well in The Pillars of the Earth, and though he looks lovely in that trailer, he just does not look like the curly-black-haired, marble-skinned Marius described in the book. For me Marius will always look like Rufus Sewell back in the young days. (Rufus also starred in The Pillars of the Earth, as it happens. Kinda why I watched it.)