I bought my first copy of the book about 15 years ago, a large hardcover illustrated by Alan Lee. It stayed unread on a bookshelf until a couple of weeks ago.
My neglect of the book came to an end after watching the first instalment of Peter Jackson’s film of the story. Ironically it wasn’t enjoyment of the film that led me to the book. My disappointment with the film made me want to know how much the film departed from the book, and how a book of about 300 pages could be stretched into a series of three, three hour films.
The answer to that last question seems to be: include extensive battle scenes where visual spectacle can distract the viewer from the fact that the brevity of the battles in the book helped to keep the story moving. And if you still need to stretch the film to three hours, add a battle or two not in the book and introduce parts of The Lord of the Rings book that had been omitted from the earlier films.
The book is a simple quest. Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit of the title, is recruited to join a group of dwarves who intend to reclaim treasure lost to the dragon Smaug when he drove the dwarves’ ancestors out of their kingdom. Their journey presents a continual series of obstacles and enemies that need to be overcome. The book’s climax brings together most of the journey’s adversaries (as well as a few friends) in a final battle. To me the book presented an intimate, personal story despite the epic nature of the journey and quest.
Tolkien later expanded the world of his children’s book the Hobbit in his creation of the more mature Lord of the Rings, presenting a grander quest with much higher, universal outcome at stake. In tackling his films of the two stories in reverse order, it seem to me that Peter Jackson felt the need to maintain the tone created in LOTR in his version of The Hobbit, but maybe he could have done so without “needing” to make them the same length.